Tuesday, May 26, 2009

6 of 69: I guess I should take Prozac, right/ and just smile all night/ at somebody new?

"I Don't Want to Get Over You"

Read just about any critical assessment of 69LS and you'll be bombarded with praise. This was a very favorably reviewed project, and almost every article I've read boils down to the same key topics. Granted, music journalism has become even more 'catching' with the advent of blogging and the rise of the internet as the key source of information about new music. By now it feels like most writers on the web are spewing the exact same regurgitated catchphrases
(as opposed to, say, physical "zines" whose material, while more original, can and often does feel dated in the mere time it takes to get the damn thing to the printer and back). However it is surprising how much reviewers aped from each other even in 1999. Either that, or everyone just noticed the same things:

1. The scope. The album's massive length has been discussed as both a positive (a sweeping magnum opus) and a negative (can one actually sit down and listen to the whole damn shebang in one go?) And as some have joked, like, totally 69, dude!

2. Fascination with Merritt's voice. This comes largely from folks who, like me, were first introduced to the Magnetic Fields through 69LS. At the end of this project I will have to gather all of my Merritt Voice descriptions and have a simile "battle to the death". Everybody, it's a Metaphor-off! (Listen to your friend Billy Zane...)

3. And the eclecticism. Perhaps the most signature aspect of the album is just how many different styles of music are embraced, parodied, messed with, sincerely reinterpreted, savaged, honored, and buried. Which makes it all the more frustrating when casual listeners say the darndest reductive things.

A few weeks ago I was listening to V1 in a back room at work and a passerby heard a snippet of "I Don't Believe in the Sun" and groaned. He then cracked his typical litany of jokes that the situation appeared to cry out for:

"Awww, cheer up, emo kid!"
"Put on some sad bastard music, see if I care!"
"Rob, that's the worst fucking sweater I've ever seen, that's a Cosby Sweater, a Caaaawwwwwzzzzby sweatuh!"

This wouldn't have been so irritating if not a week earlier, just days before this project sprang forth from my forehead fully grown, the prime antagonist dismissed this music in an equally casual manner as being 'emo.'

This is frustrating for a variety of reasons, least of all the aforementioned remarkable variety found on 69LS. But even still, if you take the Magnetic Fields body of work into account, whatever it is that 'emo' describes would hardly be accurate in the first place. Merritt's fallback style appears to be variations on 80's electro-pop. Snappy synths and playful guitars. Generally upbeat and fun. So is 69LS so different? Or do people just love dismissing stuff as 'emo'?

"I Don't Want to Get Over You," is certainly not the best place to begin my rebuttal. It is mopey and despondent, but gets interesting as it describes how easy it is for a person to slip into this mindset, the "happy being dumped" philosophy. This comes after the real pain of separation, the not being able to eat or sleep part, the raw depression where something you had is missing and the mind and body have yet to build up psychic and physical defenses. There is a romantic, poetic aspect to being so broke up over love, a misguided egocentric place where you are so sure that most people just don't have the ability to love like I do man, but good friends will only tolerate you acting like an idiot for so long. But some people don't respond to their friends hints, and this drudgery becomes a lifestyle choice. There's a slippery slope down to maudlinville, full of "clove cigarettes and vermouth" where people "dress in black and read Camus." Merritt, to his credit, appears to be making fun of this kind of behavior, dismissing it as only fit for 17 year-olds.

But its slightly more complicated than all that. Because there is no quick fix. You can't go from being in love to miserable to all better in 24 hours. There is a time where sleeping pills to get through the night might actually be a wise choice, and where a night out with friends sounds just nightmarish, and Prozac might be the only way to be able to "smile all night" and not bring everyobody else down. Which is the genius of even a mediocre song on this album. That it can take itself seriously and not so seriously all at once.

Or, you know, it's just a bunch of emo whining.

Grade: "Puppy Love"

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At 10:24 AM , Blogger oline said...

it's unfortunate that emo has become a derogatory term, seeing as having emotions is kind of a central element of being human.

At 11:28 AM , Blogger Les Savy Ferd said...


Well said. Besides being a genre that nobody wants to be classified in, I really enjoy a great many 'emo' albums, from 'pinkerton' to 'nothing feels good' and on down the line. But all told, i think emo is one of the few styles Merritt doesn't employ on 69LS.

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