Dissonant Notes

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Random Thoughts On ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ And Paul Simon In General



I have of late, but why I know not, become obsessed with the song ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ by Paul Simon. Where did this obsession come from? I have no idea. I heard the song randomly one day and, although it was a song I was already familiar with, for some reason it managed to take up residence permanently in my brain. Something about the chord progression and the melody tinged with melancholy made me want to listen. And listen. And listen. At some point, it struck me that the lyrics were not as straightforward as they seemed. The more I listened the more I became convinced that the words were not only brilliant but also quietly devastating. Was this the darkest and most misunderstood song ever written? Something tells me you aren’t convinced. Let’s go through this carefully so I can make my case.

I met my old lover
On the street last night
She seemed so glad to see me
I just smiled
And we talked about some old times
And we drank ourselves some beers
Still crazy after all these years


Pretty simple. Two old lovers meet. They share some laughs and discover that they’re still crazy about one another. Except that’s not the case. As we will soon see, the song’s narrator is referring to himself alone and he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in love. So if it’s not about love, then what is going on? The situation being described is not crazy. Not in the least. Will the next verse give us a clue?

I’m not the kind of man
Who tends to socialize
I seem to lean on
Old familiar ways
And I ain’t no fool for love songs
That whisper in my ears
Still crazy after all these years


Spot any craziness in these lines? Yeah, me neither. This appears to be the opposite of crazy. It’s mundane. Why would somebody describe their encounters with normal everyday situations and then call themselves crazy? Why indeed. They’d have to be delusional. What if the narrator of the song were fooling themselves? What if they were so incapable of action, of taking any steps to improve his life, that they had sunk into an emotional morass. What if their cynicism and disdain for vulnerable situations had led them to a life of nothingness, yet somehow they still imagine they are something of a character? Their mundanity has led them to re-imagine their weaknesses as virtues, thinking of themselves as an eccentric as opposed to an emotionally paralyzed misanthropist. Yet from time to time, the veneer crumbles.

Four in the morning
Crapped out, yawning
Longing my life away
I’ll never worry
Why should I?
It’s all gonna fade


Middle of the night. Can’t sleep (again). An admission. A sign of vulnerability. Here is a person gazing at life longingly, wishing they could act to free themselves from their self-imposed exile. Then in a blink it’s gone. No need to worry, we’ll all be dead one day. Cynicism emerges triumphant.

Now I sit by my window
And I watch the cars
I fear I’ll do some damage
One fine day
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers
Still crazy after all these years


Life goes on. The narrator continues to be a spectator. One day they’ll show everyone. One day they’ll make a real impact. Yeah, still the same old crazy guy, slowly dying. If my interpretation of the song is correct then it truly is one of the most spirit crushingly sad songs ever penned. Not in an obvious way. Not in a way that draws attention to itself. The melody carries you away from the sadness and replaces it with a wistful melancholy that could be mistaken for a love song. Don’t be fooled though, there’s darkness under the veil.

I begin to ponder why Paul Simon has been denied a place amongst the most elite and revered North American songwriters. Dylan and Young are seen as authentic because they have denied their middle-class roots and have embraced some fantasy persona of a down-home, tell it like it is character who rails against the modern age. Simon is shown less love because he doesn’t shy away from his middle-class roots. Indeed he embraces them. Since the vast majority of middle-class music fans live in denial of their upbringing and instead foster some vaguely anti-materialistic, anti-intellectual approach to life and art then Paul Simon is more a reminder than an escape. Musically, Simon has explored reggae, Afro-pop, jazz, electronica and modern classical to name some of the more obvious examples, while Dylan and Young have remained defiantly conservative in their approach, not counting Young’s cack-handed attempt at electronics. So he has a lite-jazz saxophone solo? Well David Bowie used David Sanborn on Young Americans, and nobody seems to mind Destroyer’s saxophone solos.

Don’t get me wrong, Simon has his fans among the post-Garden State/wistful indie dreamers brigade and among the writers of adult-orientated rock publications, but he deserves better than that. His lyricism is subtler than most give him credit for but his thoughtfulness comes across as grown-up and not rock‘n’roll. Not earthy. Joni Mitchell has suffered critically for a lot of the same reasons, while her excursions into jazz-pop still give many the shivers. He is lambasted for his pretensions while Dylan and Young are forgiven for their banalities. Apparently it’s better to be consistently trite than occasionally falter under the weight of your artistic vanity.

The beauty of song interpretations is that you can be wrong. Maybe I’m projecting here. Maybe I’ve just reached that point in my late 30s where I perceive the icy hand of mortality on my shoulder and I feel my youthful enthusiasm wane and in response I reach out for those Paul Simon albums to comfort me in my unstoppable decline and as a result read my own situation into his lyrics. I can only hope not. I mean yes, I haven’t made writing and recording music my life as I thought I would in my teens. There’s still time though. Despite all the distractions and troubles life has thrown at me, and despite my tiredness at the end of each day, I still feel that I have a lot to give. Granted, too much of my time is spent working, or time wasting on the internet, but don’t let that fool you. I’m still, what’s the word? No, not crazy. Surviving. That’ll do for now. It’ll have to.


(This article originally appeared on Collapse Board)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Review Of ‘Muchacho’ By Phosphorescent Based Only On The Front Cover



Is it irresponsible to write an album review without having heard a single note from said album? Maybe. It would probably depend on the album. Can you use an album cover to penetrate deep into the very core of the music and somehow extract its essence? I believe in some instances you can. I believe the album Muchacho by Phosphorescent provides us with one such example. Take a look at that album cover. I mean really look at it. Truly it is repulsive. The head tipped back just right, fingers on the brim of the cowboy hat. Wasted smile, wasted beard. Half-naked women frolic on a bed in the background. What message is this cover trying to get across? Clearly this image was not chosen at random. Far from it. The image was chosen because it encapsulates in some way the spirit of the music. It provides clues that reveal how the music should be received.

So here’s how I think the author of the album wishes us to interpret the front cover. This album is a modern Americana creation. The songwriter of Phosphorescent wants us to see him as a drunken philosopher, passed out in the gutter but spewing out wisdom. He is a barroom poet, ever ready to dish up tales of heartbreak, loneliness, and excess. Part Bukowski, part Willie Nelson, and part Townes Van Zandt. Yet with a keen eye you can see beyond this approved interpretation and discern something else. You can see the rotten core of Americana and the banalities it trades in. You can all but peek into the masturbation fantasies of a million bearded dudes across America who feel that by fleeing their suburban roots and adopting a ready-made country dude-bro vibe they can approximate some kind of authenticity. Within the unchallenging, lazy observations of indie country that seldom stretch beyond bleary-eyed regret or wide-eyed (but ‘hard-earned’) wonder, the modern Americana dude can feel that they are partaking in the simple truths of life away from the hustle and bustle of the ‘rat race’. The guy in Phosphorescent is just a good ol’ boy, never meanin’ no harm.

Why should I listen to this music? What will it give me other than nausea? Why must we retread these retreads? Every picture tells a story and that front cover tells a pitiful one. The sad thing is more than one of these dreadfully posed pictures is now doing the rounds. For all I know there are dozens in the sleeve notes. Same wasted smile. Same fingertips on the cowboy hat. Same beard. Same naked women.



I’ve decided there’s no real need to actually listen to the music because the clich├ęd cover reveals everything. Safe, comforting images that titillate and excite only those listeners whose thinking process has been replaced by some country-dude false consciousness. Must we have another album with a back-story that involves heartache and getting away from it all in order to fill the empty spaces of the music? Is it wrong to review an album without having listened to the songs? Perhaps, but it’s much worse to revel in cozy banalities. Ask yourself which of the two activities makes you angrier and get back to me.

(This review originally appeared on Collapse Board)