Jesse Jarnow

“screenwriter’s blues” – soul coughing

“Screenwriter’s Blues” – Soul Coughing (download here)
from Ruby Vroom (1994)
released by Epic (buy)

“Screenwriter’s Blues” – Soul Coughing (download here)
recorded 3 February 1997, Tokyo, Japan
released by Kufala (buy)

“Screenwriter’s Blues” – Soul Coughing (download here)
recorded 15 June 1992, Knitting Factory, New York City, NY

(files expire on June 9th.)

I busted out Soul Coughing’s Ruby Vroom while doing the dishes tonight, and re-fell in love with an old favorite, “Screenwriter’s Blues.” The album version, of course, is the proverbial Platonic motherfucker. That is, it’s good and definitive. I love Doughty’s mythical descriptor, “and men built a Los Angeles,” as if there could be more than one. Mark de Gli Antoni’s cyclical horn sample is the sonic equivalent of “the imperial violet” cast when “the sun has charred the other side and come back to us.” The whole song boils down to that, and the way Doughty sounds the word “luminous,” disappearing into a wispy, baubled L.A., like a city encased in a raindrop.

The jammy-jam 10-minute live version, recorded in Tokyo in 1997 (and released as part of Kufala’s great Soul Coughing archival series), expands on this vibe. Doughty launches into the spoken word over an ambient noir-groove. Imperceptibly and impeccably, the band snaps from their sparse weirdness into a complete reimagining of the song that occasionally calls on elements of the original recording, but is mostly just its own unique entity.

A mostly unformed rendition from an early Knitting Factory gig, in June 1992, reveals exactly how much work went into the song. The idea is there, clearly. “You see the grid of light below the plane descending on the airport,” Doughty recites during one of the song’s better excised lines, but it clearly needed some editorial attention — which it thankfully got — not to mention some music beyond a drum groove. Nearly all of the song’s final lines are present in some variation. The creative process in action, though only really relevant as a footnote to the other two versions.