Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter V

1. Volcano — Damien Rice
“He’s good, but he’s sort of stab-you-in-the-heart good,” I said to Tyson when he asked how I enjoyed the album O. Niall had sent it from Ireland, as the album had yet to have wide distribution in the US. When Damien Rice began to get all the critical nods of ‘Best of 2004,’ I always found it a bit funny that the articles neglected to notice the album’s 2003 release date. His name took up space in my brain for long enough that it took awhile to not feel surprised when this song would pop up on the radio or the rare moments when a music channel would play videos.

What elevates Damien Rice’s music from pretty good folk music into something more extraordinary is Vyvienne Long’s cello and Lisa Hannigan’s backing vocals. He and Lisa have since parted ways, and I don’t know what that will mean for the music. As a trio, they grab my heart in that great way that makes me want to sit and write.

In fact, one of the major themes I often write about can be summed up by one line from the chorus: “What I am to you is not what you mean to me.”

I’m interested in the dynamics of relationships both friendly and romantic when two people give different importance to the other. I’m interested in the idling relationship, where it’s gone on too long to bother expiring, and I’m interested in how people need each other. I’m interested in one person’s total devotion paired with another’s obliviousness to that adoration. I think about the possibility of assumed obliviousness when really it’s a case of unspoken understanding. I find it interesting when people set aside all caution and jump headfirst into what they know to be right, however crazy it seems from the outside.

What I give to you
is just what I’m going through
This is nothing new
No, no just another phase of finding what I really need
is what makes me bleed


Damien Rice’s music has the ability to make me pick apart every complicated feeling, and somehow still enjoy doing it. His introspective songwriting style leads to self-reflection, a jumping off point for sorting out all the murky matters where the brain and heart argue. The music is both inspiring and difficult, and I’m not sure what the result of prolonged non-stop listening would be. Even when he sings, “You do not need me,” I still hear dedication, however bittersweet.

2. Violet — Hole
The first thing I think of when I hear this song is the episode of Beavis and Butthead who, upon seeing the video’s title on their TV, say “Yeah! Violence! I love it when they tell right at the beginning what you’re going to see.” That video, along with the aforementioned PJ Harvey in the Letter K, is one of the few I remember from that show. The third? “Dammit, Pantera! I thought I told you to take out the garbage!”

And the sky was made of amethyst
And all the stars are just like little fish
You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say no


Courtney Love may be crazier than a bag of monkeys, but as far as her music goes, I have no problem with her. She’s ballsy and independent, and that comes through in the songs. I like this version of Hole, the Celebrity Skin version, and I dug the one single I heard from her solo album. Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” was one of the first moments in middle school that made me think, “You know, the R&B stuff my friends are listening to is crap.” Despite liking the music, I’ve only managed a dubbed cassette of Live Through This. Kristen always liked them, but I borrowed the albums in the days before readily available CD burners and Napster. How I managed to be more familiar with Hole than Nirvana, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a little about staring at bassist Melissa Auf Der Mar, but it also has a lot do with the scream-along satisfaction of the chorus:

Go on, take everything!
Take everything, I want you to
Go on, take everything!
Take everything, I dare you to


One of the funniest moments I’ve seen on MTV — besides the time Courtney Love threw things at Madonna and then almost fell on her — was when they had her and Melissa do a segment on House of Style, then hosted by the unremarkable Daisy Fuentes. On a show known for supermodels and whatever Todd Oldham had going, the two of them got on there, demonstrated how to rip a few t-shirts into a dress and more or less said, “Traditional fashion is bullshit.” Courtney Love may not be a role model, but she has had moments of clarity to which more people should have paid attention.

3. Velvet Morning — The Verve
Would you believe I was between this song and Sneaker Pimps “Velvet Divorce?” Two different “Velvet” songs. I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about the Life Less Ordinary soundtrack one more time, and I had nothing much to say about the song apart from, “I enjoy it,” so I had to find something else. There’s a reason the Letter V is worth 4 points in Scrabble — it’s not as easy of a letter as you might think.

“Velvet Morning” sounds a little like something off Be Here Now, with a splash of “Champagne Supernova.” Some critics say Urban Hymns is the album Oasis wish they made instead that year, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses. “Velvet Morning” is a little psychedelic with a hundred different sounds overlapping each other and building into something bigger.

Yes, it’s been long
and yes, I still feel strong
Into the half light,
another velvet morning for me


That beginning could open a movie, one fresh beginning before diving into the story. Hearing this song is the closest I get to imagining what it must be like for people who see music in colors. The strings, the pedal steel, the vocals through a filter — all of it swirls into one package that begs to bleed over into other media.

And now I’m trying to tell you
about my life
And my tongue is twisted
And more dead than alive


Hearing those lines makes me think about the difference between writing to someone and talking to them. I’m a much more effective communicator when I can write it all down. My speaking style is either off the cuff or reserved, and I don’t know if I paint a very accurate picture of myself in conversation. I suppose everyone feels this way, and we all think we’re the only ones with the problem — thinking everyone else gets along just fine, and I’m just trying not to sound like the fragmented, inarticulate odd duck who has forgotten some of that handy arrogance along the way.

I said, Don’t you find
that it’s lonely
The corridor
You walk there alone
And life is a game you’ve tried


I don’t know the solution. I’m still trying to find that balance between “Of course I’m fantastic, and you should think so too,” and over-thinking, dialing back too far. I suppose we spend a lifetime learning how, and sometimes we get it right.

4. Volumen Theme — Volumen
Volumen were a band that hailed from Great Falls, settled in Missoula and became big on that local music front, promptly becoming all indignant that Great Falls only loved them after they moved away. Seeing as the lot who loved them were unaware and in middle school when they still lived in Great Falls, I always thought their accusations of bandwagonry were a bit ... self-important. If it hadn’t been for their great live show, I would’ve discounted them as just another area musician that spent too much time on the idea of a band rather than being one.

I saw them play two or three times, once at Jay’s Upstairs in Missoula (now closed), and maybe twice in Great Falls. I want to say they were on a bill that I did not catch the entirety of one night at Center Stage, but I’m not sure. The show I remember most will always be the Halloween Show 2001 held at, of all places, the Elks Club. I drove back to Great Falls to see Old Boyfriend perform as the opener (and he’d also organized the whole show), even though we were half broken up by then. Hearing Volumen may have subconsciously nudged in me towards the decision of bothering. The band arrived in their vintage ambulance they’d been using as a tour bus, all wearing retro medical uniforms — white coats, white nurses uniforms with the little hats, red crosses. They were a fully functioning unit in performance gear.

I was standing out near the door when a girl from Missoula I’d just met in creative writing class arrived. She said, “What are you doing here?”

I said, “I live here!” Never mind the fact that I no longer did, but I suppose it’s telling that I said that and not “to see my boyfriend play.” Anyway, she was a friend of the Volumen and I think she danced more than anyone that night.

Volumen’s style hovers somewhere around dance rock with a touch of nerdiness. They have drum machines, loud guitars, and songs about video games and my favorite, “Miniature Action Jesus.” They’re fun — way more fun in a live setting. I have the Super Confident Guy EP (with bonus How Do You Spell... ? album tacked on the end because the original run went out of print) and while all the good songs are on there, it lacks the energy of the gig. The chorus of the Volumen Theme loses some of its oomph when a crowd isn’t there to shout along, “Volumen! Woo!”

“How Do You Spell?” has a great sing-along silly chorus: “How do you spell Volumen?/ I said La-La-La-La-La-La-La Volumen..”

With it being Halloween, a prize went to the best costume. The band thought, and I thought, they had it in the bag with all that coordinated head-to-toe ambulance theme, but no... They gave it to a short kid who stuffed himself full of padding, put on suspenders, and became an almost circular fat man. I think Great Falls had trouble booking the band after that.

5. Virtual Insanity — Jamiroquai
I can hear you all groaning already, I know. I got sick of this song too after the initial love affair, but enough time passed to where I heard the song on the radio one day and thought, “I should dig that album out.” If nothing else, it’s good for dancing around while picking up the house or cooking a proper breakfast.

The last time I remember the MTV Video Music Awards being anything good was in 1996. Bush, Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morissette, and Jamiroquai all performed. Gavin wore the shirt with the very tiny ‘Fuck you’ printed on it, Liam spit on the stage, Alanis needed to wash her hair, Jamiroquai broke out the moving floor again — MTV may as well have rounded up my CD collection and made a show of it because there was hardly a bad moment for thirteen year old me. At the risk of my bulletin board friend Marg throwing rocks at me, I’ll say that I even enjoyed The Cranberries performance that night as well.

The next year, the Spice Girls invaded the place. While I don’t mind them much, they hovered the line between the MTV I grew up with — the mix of full length videos, music news and the occasional topical documentary — and the ten year spiral into the crap we see today. 1996 was the last year that I didn’t mind them rerunning the broadcast almost nonstop for a week.

To be honest, I never listen to Jamiroquai’s album Traveling Without Moving all the way through. Three songs stand out the most to me — “Virtual Insanity,” “Alright,” and “Cosmic Girl.” I may have been the only person using the song “Cosmic Girl” in a high school Humanities class project, five years after its release. I rarely play the album, but radio play stays just sporadic enough that “Virtual Insanity” feels like a happy surprise. A musician could be known for worse.

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