Jesse Jarnow

Archive for May, 2006

some recent articles

‘Circuit bending’ lets old toys play tunes,” Associated Press
Unleash the Love,” Times Herald-Record (interview with Mike Love)
I Know There’s An Answer,” (interview with Brian Wilson)

Album reviews:
Estudando O Pagode – Tom Zé
Surprise – Paul Simon
The Wind at Four to Fly – the Disco Biscuits
Congotronics 2: Buzz ‘n’ Rumble From the Urb ‘n’ Jungle – various
Really Don’t Mind If You Sit This One Out – Mushroom
self-titled – Carneyball Johnson
‘Sno Angel – Howe Gelb

Live reviews:
Broken Social Scene at Webster Hall, 28 January 2006
Marc Ribot at Issue Project Room, 16 March 2006
Medeski, Martin, and Wood at the Society For Ethical Culture, 6 April 2006
Tristan Perich, Corn Mo, and Captured! By Robots at North 6, 6 May 2006
Jim O’Rourke at the Stone, 16 May 2006

Book reviews:
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, published in Paste #21
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Columns and misc.:
BRAIN TUBA: Back to the Future
BRAIN TUBA: Fairweathering
web notes for AUX compilation

Only in print:
o June Relix (Pete Townshend cover): album reviews of Billy Martin, Billy Martin and Grant Calvin Weston, Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden, Glenn Kotche, Marley’s Ghost, Johnny Cash; live review of the Rhythm Devils; DVD review of Leo Kottke.
o Paste #22 (Bob Dylan cover): Jeff Tweedy entry in “100 Best Living Songwriters feature, album review of The Raconteurs.
o May Hear/Say (Taking Back Sunday cover): album reviews of Danielson and Elf Power.

stumbling on happiness

There’s an old SubGenius maxim that runs that if Satan can use the Scriptures to his own ends, then SubGenius slackmaster J.R. “Bob” Dobbs can quote anything to prove anything. Reading pop psychology can sometimes feel like that. Harvard prof Daniel Gilbert and his thoroughly enjoyable Stumbling on Happiness are cut from the same contrarian cloth as New Yorker staffer Malcolm Gladwell (who gives good blurb on the book’s Amazon page).

Gilbert hangs his arguments about what makes humans happy from a narrative of anecdotes. In short, he says, “when we think of events in the distant past or distant future we tend to think abstractly about why they happened or will happen, but when we think of events in the near past or near future we tend to think concretely about how they happened or will happen.” This is what we must consider, he argues, when we think about how to be happy (which, presumably, is what we want).

The endless stream of footnoted studies is powerfully dizzying. In one test, subjects “imagined the poster on their wall, noted how they felt when they did so, and assumed that if imagining the poster on the wall made them feel good, then actually seeing it on their wall would probably do the same. And they were right.” Score one for intuition. But 25 or so pages earlier, Gilbert writes that “when humankind imagines the future, it rarely notices what imagination has missed — and the missing pieces are much more important than we realize.” So… we shouldn’t trust intuition?

At one point, Gilbert uses graphs to show that eating at the same restaurant over and over can be clinically more satisfying than eating at a variety of restaurants over the same period of time — which goes a long way towards justifying my San Loco obsession, but could just be rhetorical fancy-pantsing (or, in other words: anything to prove anything).

Surprisingly, the end result of Stumbling on Happiness is a cohesive composite of a deeply elusive emotion. Gilbert never puts his finger on exactly what happiness is, but who could? Instead, he provides a vocabulary (see: “presentism,” “pre-feeling,” etc.), to chart its idiosyncratic dartings. If that all sounds a l’il fuzzy and self-helpy, then I suppose it is, but Gilbert offers no cure-alls, just methods of observing one’s own thoughts mid-flight. Sure, Dobbs or Gilbert can use anything to prove anything, but Gilbert has chosen to prove the existence of happiness, and that’s not such a bad goal to have.

johnny bench

One more baseball posting to close out the week…
Two excerpts from Catch You Later: The Autobiography of Johnny Bench by Johnny Bench and William Brasher. (see also: Johnny Bench by, uh, me.)


1972 World Series, versus the A’s.

I, meanwhile, had to prepare for a World Series not against Baltimore and Mr. Brooks Robinson, but against Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s: mustaches, mules, and all.

We were the bad guys. It was 1972, the streets belonged to the people, flower children were alive and well, and the Cincinnati Reds were the Establishment being shoved up against the wall by the A’s from Berkeley.

We wore white suits at home, gray on the road, with low-cut socks and black polished spikes. They wore gold, green, and white uniforms in every combination, shiny high-cut silks, and white spikes.

We were clean-shaven with trimmed, short hair (Pete still wore a flat top) and no sideburns. They were longhairs, with sideburns and mustaches — thanks to Charlie Finley’s contest to see who could grow the most stylish upper lip — and the results were muttonchops, handlebars, and Fu Manchus.

…Before the series began in Cincinnati, I got together with Reggie Jackson and went out for something to eat. … Later I drove him back to the hotel, Reggie was on crutches, and when we went up past a few players’ rooms, I smelled the sweet, unmistakable odor of marijuana. A couple of the Oakland A’s, the American League representatives in the World Series, were smoking dope. That really shook me. I thought, “How in the world can they be doing this?” (pp. 109-111)


1973 National League Championship Series, versus the Mets

“Grab a bat!” I yell. “Everybody grab a bat! Make sure Pete gets off the field.”

Sparky takes it up, mobilizing the whole team into a civil defense corps. We’ll go out there swinging to get him if we have to. Our hitter slaps a grounder, Pete runs a few steps toward second, then dashes for our dugout.

“Here they come!” someone shouts, and the fans are pouring over the walls and onto the field. Pete bulls his way, knocks a few kids on their cans, and makes it into the dugout. By now the people are on the dugout roof and coming over the top. I stand there with the fat part of a bat in my hand. I swing at a kid who comes at me and rap him in the shins. I can hear the thwock against the bone. He yelps and drops back and others back off. (p. 144)

“meet the mets” – yo la tengo

“Meet the Mets” – Yo La Tengo (download here)
from Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics (2006)
released by Egon

(file expires on May 31st.)

Every one of the 30 tossed-off covers on the terrible-by-any-objective-standard Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics will be endearing to somebody; the only question is which one. It’s kind of a neat effect, and it makes the band seem that much more personal. For me, it’s “Meet the Mets,” the closest the team (from whose lore YLT drew their name) ever came to a theme jingle. Though it was recently replaced — officially, anyway — by the metallic shit-pop production “Our Team, Our Time,” “Meet the Mets” still gets an early inning airing and sing-along. Young Manhattanite recently posted a delightful mp3 history of the Mets’ various songs over the years.

(Visible under the 7-train tracks is the Casey Stengel bus depot.)

(“Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” 7th inning stretch.)

willets point, 5/06

Walking from home plate at Shea Stadium, across second base, through the outfield, over the fence and to the other side of the parking lot, one arrives in Willets Point, a sprawling near-shantytown of car repair places. Before tonight’s five-hour, 16-inning blowout victory against the Phillies, Tony and I wandered through Willets Point at Magic Hour. The roads were unpaved and riddled with puddles. There were chop shops, pre-fab warehouses, body specialists, and lots filled with tires. Tony said it felt like being suddenly transported to a third world nation. He wasn’t wrong. It was pure urban anarchy.

When the Mets’ new stadium goes up in a few years, it’s a sure bet that somebody will have some whizbang revitalization plans that will involve the removal of the unsightly car repair places (the cheapest in the boroughs, supposedly) currently clogging up valuable waterfront real estate. For now, though, the scrap metal glows in the Queens County sunset.

You can see Shea’s upper deck in the distance…

“feels blind” – bikini kill

“Feels Blind” – Bikini Kill (download here)
from Bikini Kill EP (1991)
compiled on The C.D. Version of the First Two Records (1994)
released by Kill Rock Stars (buy)

(file expires on May 30th.)

Sometime during junior high school, at summer camp, my friend (a girl, it should be noted) played me Bikini Kill’s “Feels Blind.” I was just learning to play guitar, and the three-note riff was irresistible. I loved how it started off clean with the nice neat martial beat, and then the band just went apeshit. The intro verse was lovely, I thought: a clever melody and cool lyrics, and then it just disappeared into the full-throttle punk-rawkness of it all — and that was awesome, too! And then Kathleen Hanna was screaming something about how “as a woman, I was taught to be hungry.” Then, the climactic chant: “I eat your hate like love.” Needless to say, we played it in our summer camp band (we were called “Umlaut” that year). She played bass. I was part of the unnecessary army of guitarists. It was fun.

And sometime after that, while visiting the aforementioned girl in DC, I bought myself Bikini Kill’s The C.D. Version of the First Two Records on a label called “Kill Rock Stars” (which seemed plenty provocative to the 15-year old me). When I showed off my purchase, I was told, basically, that I wasn’t allowed to listen to Bikini Kill. They were a riot grrl band, and — as a guy — it wasn’t for me. That bummed me out a lot. At the same time that Bikini Kill intended to create an inclusionary safe-space for girls, I was genuinely hurt by being excluded from this music that my friend herself had introduced me to. It was the first and last riot grrl CD I bought. Our friendship didn’t last much beyond that.

penn station, rush hour, 5/06

new music friday

A few things happen when a favorite artist doesn’t put out an album for a few years. The first is that the already-existing catalogue ossifies into what seems like a closed canon. The second, and basically inverse, reaction is the lingering fear that the next project is going to be the shitty one, the one where the star ratings in the discography suddenly jag downwards. Hearing new songs in advance of a new record can be exciting, if scary. What may’ve seemed like a perfectly balanced body of work suddenly needs to admit something new; and one must make room in whatever his conception of the band is.

This week, both Yo La Tengo’s “Beanbag Chair” and Wilco’s “Is That The Thanks I Get?” made the cyber-rounds. I am still assimilating, though I have happily listened to “Beanbag Chair” many times, but have been semi-afraid to take a second glance at “Is That The Thanks…,” for fear it might confirm my initial impression. Likewise, a friend directed me towards a page of live recordings from the current Radiohead tour, including much of their new material. I have not yet had a chance to listen (see above).


Because I like the moon, a bit of Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino:

How well I know!–old Qfwfq cried,–the rest of you can’t remember, but I can. We had her on top of us all the time, that enormous Moon: when she was full–nights as bright as day, but with a butter-colored light–it looked as if she were going to crush us; when she was new, she rolled around the sky like a black umbrella blown by the wind; and when she was waxing, she came forward with her horns so low she seemed about to stick into the peak of a promontory and get caught there…
There were nights when the Moon was full and very, very low, and the tide was so high that the Moon missed a ducking in the sea by a hair’s-breadth; well, let’s say a few yards anyway. Climb up on the Moon? Of course we did. All you had to do was row out to it in a boat and, when you were underneath, prop a ladder against her and scramble up.

wilco does dylan

“John Wesley Harding” – Wilco (download here)
“I Shall Be Released” – Wilco (download here)
recorded 5 March 2005, Vic Theater, Chicago, IL

(files expire on May 24th.)

I love when I listen to a good live recording so often that I know it as well as an album, accidentally have the banter memorized, can identify its sound instantly when it comes on shuffle, and the likes. One of my favorites is a Jeff Tweedy solo gig from last March, which concluded with Wilco joining him onstage for the final encore. It is paced perfectly with a vibe all its own, perfect for long Sunday mornings. It doesn’t hurt that the recording is a rich and beautiful soundboard. During the encore, Tweedy & co. played a pair of reverent Bob Dylan covers, “John Wesley Harding” and “I Shall Be Released” that I am extraordinarily glad to have in my collection. Especially in the case of the former — the title track from Dylan’s stark, well-aged masterpiece — Tweedy picked well.

from the archives: the mountain goats’ tallahassee

From Relix, April/May 2003:

The Mountain Goats

With lyrics that scan like terse prose, The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee paints a disintegrating marriage of an “alpha couple” in suburban Florida with sympathetic, literate strokes. Achieving a rare mopeless melancholy, John Darnielle’s songs are rendered with a subtly glorious production: a tapped cymbal here, a wash of static there. If concept albums tend to reach for the bombastic arcs of opera for their inspiration, then Tallahassee finds its forebears in the understated drama of Raymond Carver and John Cheever’s short fiction. Darnielle’s couple could be anybody anywhere, but they’re in Florida, in the lush air, and there’s no mistaking anything about them.

comin’ correct b/w buy, sell or break

“Comin’ Correct” (live) – RANA (download here)
from Subject To Change (2003)
released by Rockslide

“Buy, Sell or Break” – RANA (download here)
from What It Is (2004)
released by RANA/Bone Saw Records

(files expire on May 22nd)

RANA played long and late and raucous at the Knitting Factory on Saturday. Three-quarters of the way through the set, back to back, they jammed their great lost/unrecorded double-A-side 7-inch: Comin’ Correct (Metzger) b/w Buy, Sell or Break (Durant). I’m not sure how the world would be different had it ever been released, let alone recorded, but these two songs live together in my mind. Here are the two songs, in marginally less than Platonic form. meet

Okay, so the name wunderkammern-twenty-seven-dot-com doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, I admit it. Neither does Jesse-Jarnow-dot-com, but at least it’s (sorta) easier to remember. In an act of rare common sense, I finally bought the domain over the weekend and set it to forward over here. Y’know, in case that makes life easier for you or anything…

links of dubious usefulness, no. 5

Here are five pages I have bookmarked recently but not yet fully absorbed. I am glad I know where this information is located.

o Jeff Duntemann’s gallery of homemade radios. The guts of these projects are gorgeous. (Thanx, BB.)

o A collection of historical celestial atlases and star maps. (Word, Kircherians.)

o YouTube has the original, 1994 short film of Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket. I’m looking forward to watching this one. (Yepyep, Kottke.)

o A list of various “open content” projects currently occurring in Brazil, including details about Gilberto Gil and John Perry Barlow’s Canto Livre program, which aims to digitize Brazilian culture, assign Creative Commons licenses, and distribute via peer-to-peer networks. See also the Estudio Livre program, a series of public, government-funded recording studios run on open source software.

o The second episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour is available for free via the same route as the first. (username: press1, password: xmr0ck5!) It is a great pleasure to come back from a night out and be able to fire up the freshy Bobmix. (Big ups, Expecting Rain.)

and now a word from p.t. barnum

Apropos of absolutely nothing, a quote from Struggles and Triumphs, the 1869 autobiography of P.T. Barnum. Here, Barnum describes the burning of his second American Museum, where mermaid bones were displayed side by side with genuine artifacts:

The cold was so intense that the water froze almost as soon as it left the house of the fire engines; and when at last everything was destroyed, except the front granite wall of the Museum building, that and the ladder, signs, and lamp-posts in front, were covered in a gorgeous framework of transparent ice, which made it altogether one of the most picturesque scenes imaginable. Thousands of persons congregated daily in that locality in order to get a view of the magnificent ruins. By moonlight, the ice-coated ruins were still more sublime, and for many days and nights the old Museum was ‘the observed of all observers,’ and photographs were taken by several artists.

“ragtime nightingale” – david boeddinghaus

“Ragtime Nightingale” – David Boeddinghaus (download here)
from Crumb soundtrack (1995)
released by Rykodisc (buy)

(file expires on May 17th)

Even without an inch of vinyl crackle, ragtime pioneer Joseph Lamb’s “Ragtime Nightingale” sounds mysterious and old. One gets the sense, though, that the song has exactly the same emotional impact as it did when it was first composed; that it is not simply the nostalgia of listening to ragtime in the early 21st century, but an objective emotional effect of the music. It’s just beautiful. The genre’s signature rhythmic force gives shape to the melody, which is so closely entwined that it is almost elusive, a shadow turning within a shadow.

you like yaks.

Somebody posted one of Dad’s old Sesame Street cartoons to YouTube. It’s a bit out of synch. So it goes.

It stars a yak.

(Link discovered via FoldedSpace’s extensive list of Sesame Street YouTube clips.) (Thanks, Kottke.)

a day at the races, 5/06

…an accidental experiment in extra-miniature New Polaroidism…

“down in the valley” – pete seeger

“Down in the Valley” – Pete Seeger (download here)
from American Favorite Ballads, v. 1 (1957)
released by Smithsonian Folkways (buy)

(file expires on May 12th)

Pete Seeger was my first hero, plain and simple. My parents played me a lot of his records when I was very young, most especially his American Favorite Ballads series. I have distinct memories of their tinted, block-printed covers on the big, mysterious record sleeves. He was probably the first professional musician I saw perform. I got to interview Pete two months back, and it was one of the most deeply satisfying experiences I’ve ever had. It’s been nice to see him get some attention lately, with Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions disc, and the subsequent New Yorker profile of Pete. Seeger’s music is lily white. When, on the elegiac “Down in the Valley,” he sings, “write me a letter, send it by mail, send it in care of Birmingham jail,” one wonders what the hell somebody so mild-mannered could possibly be jailed for. Seeger was jailed, though, for refusing to name names before Joseph McCarthy’s House un-American Activities Committee.

I didn’t know any of that when I was a kid, though, nor did I even question Pete’s authority about being jail. It seemed so obviously a song, a play of some kind. There is no authenticity to Pete Seeger’s performances of American folk ballads, at least in the sense that — owing to his ridiculously button-down voice, his earnest presentation — Seeger is so obviously presenting songs. That, Seeger implicitly says, is what one should be listening to anyway. There is a backwards transcendence to Pete’s version of “Down in the Valley.” It’s as corny as it comes, but there’s no mistaking the beautiful, lingering melody at the center. Seeger is not interpreting the song, he is simply singing it. And, while he may have political reasons for doing so, he’s still doing so, and that’s something still rare and wonderful.

asian night

Before the game, the announcer announced that it was Asian Night. As such, there would be a performance of “traditional Korean music and dance.” Nothing more specific, just “traditional.” From the visiting dugout paraded a troupe of dancers and hand percussionists. A man played long, piercing drones on a horn. Processed through the tinny scoreboard P.A., the horn cut through the stadium din with stunning clarity.

When the dancers were done, men began banging on a massive drum set up by the Mets’ dugout. Again, no explanation, just booms. At first, they didn’t come through the speakers, and we could only hear the drums, muffled and indistinct, like distant fireworks. When they were piped through the P.A., there was an unbelievable echo, almost literally the dimensions that Jamaica’s early dub astronauts were trying to create. And again, the crowd — or those paying attention, anyway — were totally boggled. The speakers were cut off quickly.

If I was a kid there, I think I’d have to be totally intrigued, especially by the mysterious, ricocheting horn. It would’ve been like discovering music through the crackle of library-loaned vinyl, or from the erratic signal of the college radio station a few towns over. There was no scholarship to the presentation, and it was awesome (if maybe accidentally so, at least for that). “Let’s have a big Shea Stadium hand,” the announcer announced. Some people clapped politely, and the buoyant pre-recorded organ played again. .

“three woman blues” – the wowz

“Three Woman Blues” – The Wowz (download here)
from Go Figure EP (2006)

(file expires on May 10th.)

On “Three Woman Blues,” The Wowz set their hootenannic anti-folk over a beat that recalls Brazilian baile-funk (especially the recurring two-note electro-whistle melody). The verses are pure amphetamine-era Dylan (“Jet Pilot,” specifically), but the dropped chorus is all Wowz: “I wouldn’t be a misogynist, if my heart didn’t hurt as bad as this.” The ragged harmonies are ace, as are their musical equivalent in the sloppy/ecstatic lightning-shot guitar break that leads to the middle-eight. My favorite line, sung good ‘n’ dry, is there: “She moves in a stupid way / and she’s, like, obsessed with putting things away.” Not ready to be manic yourself? Well, dig the upswings vicariously through the Wowz.

“the mountain low” – palace music

“The Mountain Low” – Palace Music (download here)
from Viva Last Blues (1995)
released by Drag City (buy)

(file expires on May 9th.)

I’m a sucker for a good first line anywhere, be it a novel or a newspaper or a song, and — holy “Bob” — does Will Oldham’s “The Mountain Low” have one. “If I could fuck a mountain,” Oldham sings, “Lord, I would fuck a mountain.”

“There are so many ways you can go at something in a song,” Bob Dylan told Robert Hillburn last year. “One thing is to give life to inanimate objects. Johnny Cash is good at that. He’s got the line goes, ‘A freighter said, “She’s been here, but she’s gone, boy, she’s gone.”‘ That’s great. ‘A freighter says, “She’s been here.”‘ That’s high art. If you do that once in a song, you usually turn it on its head right then and there.”

Oldham twists it from the start. After that, the song settles down into lyrics and a fantastic melody that are basically folk music (or anti-folk or whatever you wanna call a boho duder with an acoustic guitar these days). But that first line just hangs over the song, and informs what’s essentially just a lovely strum with a general sense of dirty, surreal unease.


I love the democracy of YouTube. Search for “Wilco,” and the first results (for now, anyway), include unofficial music videos, what appears to be a Dutch school play (whose keywords include “robot,” “funny,” “hardcore,” and “zelfgemaakt”), and some kids partying in the basement of a dude named Wilco. Then comes footage of the band, but first shaky audience-shot bootlegs, before finally getting to the TV appearances and music videos, and Wilco covers by random people who thought it’d be a swell idea to cover Wilco and put it on YouTube.

Anyway, some of my favorite (non-Wilco) YouTube discoveries:
o Yo La Tengo attend Mr. Show’s rock academy in the “Sugarcube” video.
o Brian Wilson performs “Surf’s Up” solo on a Leonard Bernstein television special in 1966. (Bonus: 1992’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” in which the Boys cram bikini babes, old ladies, children, and John Stamos into three-and-a-half minutes of glorious, uh, hot fun.)
o Wes Anderson shills pleasantly for American Express.
o Jerry Garcia rubs elbows with Hugh Hefner during the Grateful Dead’s 1969 appearance on Playboy After Dark. (Hef was later dosed by the band.)
o Jeff Mangum sings “Engine.”