A Menagerie of Strings and Things

It's not that I'm suffering from writer's block or anything queer like that, it's just that there's a lot going on in the office and in life. The difficult thing for me, when it comes to writing, is making sense of all these little red and white ideas hanging down from the ceiling like origami birdies. I'd prefer to spend my entire day writing.

I hope you realize how much I actually enjoy putting these strings of words, like Christmas lights, together. The possibilities are endless, really. I remember, over Thanksgiving, talking about music with my unmusical uncle. Him saying, "You know, I always wonder why musicians decide to put one note here and one note there. Why did they decide to do it this way, rather than that way?" Good question. One particular musician, writer, artist might have a good answer. I don't. What do I have? As I write this, I have a scruffy guy in dirty jeans crawling in the whiteness above me. He's tugging blue wires, green wires, silver wires, and I don't know what else from one end of the office, through the ceiling, all the way to the other end of the office, and it's making an awful racket. Why? I don't know why, exactly, but I imagine the reason is good.

Those wires need to be up there like this sentence needs a paragraph of its own.

I have pissed-off writers — really excellent writers, the kind you like to keep happy — totally pissed-off, and for good reasons. I have Products of the Year award presentations to schedule, and you'd think that manufacturers would be happy to accept an award, wouldn't you? I have 5000 e-mails and several red lights flashing, questions and complaints waiting for me in my innocent-looking phone. I have "Letters to the Editor" and "Follow-Up" to proofread. I have an office full of heavy boxes to ship back to their manufacturers, but make no mistake: I have no office. (This is not a cry for one, either. This is just writing.) We have no paper in our printer. I have a lot of stuff to print out. I have a photo shoot to arrange. I have a bunch of other stuff that I'm forgetting right now. I have a bad memory, it seems, but no: It's just not easy to keep three month's worth of work and invoices and life straight, all at once. And what month is this, anyway? I have Christmas presents to buy. And I know you've got all your own shit, too, and you don't have this blog to use as an outlet, as a release, as a vent. What else have I got? I've got friends who are leaving soon.

I've got Bill Withers singing some sexy-ass shit about

If I can't be the one you love,
let me be the one you need.

Take a look into your heart,
and try to find a place for me.

And, last night, I was listening to this Bill Withers "Best of" compilation for the first time in a long time, in some sort of silly attempt....

Hold on. Now, I've got a fire alarm. We've just been asked to line up pleasantly or accordingly or some stupid, unrealistic, adverb like that. When the alarm rings we must line up, and the alarm is ringing now.

Here, I guess, I can make some metaphor about how life doesn't line up pleasantly for any alarm, but:

And, last night, I was listening to this Bill Withers "Best of" compilation for the first time in a long time, in some sort of silly attempt to figure out what type of music my system likes best, what type of music makes my system really sing. I've been having a difficult time with this. Every time I begin to think I have a handle on it, I lose my grip. I second-guess myself. I have visions and re-visions. I can't tell you what type of music my little system likes best.

I can tell you what types of sounds I've had the most fun listening for within an entire piece of music, whatever type of music that may be: percussive sounds — drums (duh), tambourines, maracas, and bells, congas, acoustic guitar, and piano.

I wonder if this has something to do with the speakers' designer, John DeVore, being a drummer. Maybe I'm onto something, or maybe I'm full of shit.

I also really enjoy listening to voices. Special voices — raspy ones like Tom Waits' or breathy ones like Sam Beam's or ethereal ones like Diane Cluck's or mountainous ones like Jim Teacher's or Thalia Zedek's — are all especially fun to listen to. And I think I'm talking about "definition" or "resolution of detail" here. I'm willing to bet that my little system excels in these areas. Give it some decently-recorded, airy music, with all sorts of fun little things going on, and listen as it offers each instrument and sound its own special space.

I've been wondering: Is there some correlation between percussive instruments and voices that would explain my attraction to the two?

Also, while listening to this "Best of" compilation, I found that my little system vested in me certain powers to marry an individual track to its original album. For instance, after listening twice through, I could tell, from the sound of the recording, that "I Want to Spend the Night" came from Menagerie, "Who is He (And What is He to You?)" came from Still Bill, "You Just Can't Smile It Away" came from Watching You Watching Me, and so on. I could never do this with, say, a Magnavox boombox.

My little system also gave me the sense that Feist had been listening to a lot of Menagerie when she recorded Let it Die. And, now, I want to go out and buy Menagerie.

"I like your sweater," she says, out of nowhere.
"Thank you."
"Nonsequitur, I know, but, nevertheless."

This has been an unusually loud, busy, frustrating morning. But, all at once, a lot of little somethings just happened: the Bill Withers CD came to a quiet end; a fax to our Accounts Payable department in Harrisburg, PA, went through successfully; we found some paper for our printer; the awful racket in the ceiling above me was transformed into the lulling and warm sound of air traveling through vents.

There's this one line in Feist's "Let it Die" that goes

The saddest part
of a broken heart

isn't the ending
so much as the start.

That kills me. I just wanted to mention that.

I think I'll tie a knot in this particular string of words right here — for no real reason — and move on to some other things.

"What's the blog about today?" asks JA.

Jim Tavegia's picture

We nearly had a man in crisis here. Deadlines, problems," and all kind of #^&* going on. Can't someone get this man a ""hearty"" mug of Yule Punch? or", as Scrooge might say after his transformation, a Christmas Bowl. Time top start the Christmas party early, I think. Start choosing designated drivers now!

Stephen Mejias's picture

>Start choosing designated drivers now!
Seriously. I really want a beer right now.

Todd Steponick's picture

Percussion and voice goes back through prehistory as perhaps the first manipulative sounds. Maybe there's some connection to a correlation there. - Dr Todds, Anthropologist.

john devore's picture

I like Todds' comment--I really think there's something to it. The idea that these sounds you describe as the most fun to listen to in Hi Fi are also the oldest (human voice, things banging together," etc.) makes a lot of sense. Your reptile brain is simply responding to sounds it recognizes as sounding ""right"" or natural. When everything's good", listening to music can feel that way. A direct connection to the music, with nothing in the way. No gear, no world outside, no overdue bills. I love that.

Ward's picture

That's the best Feist song on the album. Seriously. I'm with you on the percussion/vocals thing. Maybe they just have the most to gain from proper presentation