rondo
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.

 

This is a special weekend edition of Said the Gramophone. It's long, but there are four whole songs to be heard.

---

So here we are. About eighteen months ago, I started writing StG. In my second post I insulted Pitchfork and talked about Purim. In my fifth I mentioned the Arcade Fire. Barroso's "Brazil" comes up in post number nine. Said the Gramophone's not been a mirror for me, but it's certainly been a portrait - there's a lot of me in the writing, and more still in the music I've been posting since we "went mp3" in November 2003.

Now, I'm off for a four-month European galavant. If all goes according to plan, that will become an indefinite-length European residency. I'll be away from here for a while, but if I can, I intend to return. So please don't go away.

Furthermore, as I've said, Said the Gramophone is not going off the air. Replacing me during my trip is the wise Jordan Himelfarb - musician, philosopher, wit. I will let him introduce himself, but I promise you that you will not be disappointed.

I'd like to thank all of my readers for their attention, their dedication, and their extraordinary kindness. I throw words at the blog like paint at a canvas, hoping that a likeness or two will stick; it's been endlessly rewarding to know that a few of these images have made an impression. I appreciate the comments and criticism, the songs you've sent, the little notes that say "this song does sound like rootbeer at a picnic after you break up with your girlfriend!" I thank the skies for the people I've met, and for the feeling that I am listening to music with friends. It's been a pleasure sharing things with you, knowing that because of Said the Gramophone CDs are being bought and shows are being attended. Please keep listening - to everything.

Special thanks to: Steve, John, Keith, Cody, Tuwa, Liz, Dave, Howard, Adrian, Annette, Mark, Benjamen, Brad, mr g, bmr, Gretchen, Chryde, Aaron, Adam, Dana, my real-life pals (especially andrea, dan, monica, andrew, miri, robin, and my dear mum & dad), and the cavalcades of others whose names will doubtless come to me a few days from now, while en route across the Atlantic.

If you'd like to keep in touch as I travel, you can write me at sean [dot] michaels [at] gmail [dot] com.

Jordan's Said the Gramophone starts this week. Please welcome him with wide arms; I suspect he's nervous. :)

---

Some songs.

First, I will end by sharing some of that which which I began. The following are respectively the fifth and fourth songs posted to Said the Gramophone.

The Frames - "Lay Me Down". "II/XV" (below) is barren; "Lay Me Down" is luscious. Glen Hansard moves calmly toward death (toward love?), voice gliding between the shudder and thump of drums. A banjo flickers like soul in my veins, a fiddle dips and soars like a heart in my chest. Nothing "folksy" about this, though - it's almost baroque in its form, in its careful gestures. I love the way it ends: it doesn't explode or implode or burst... it just stops. Steve Albini's masterful production - from the blush of harmonica to the ting of a cymbal.

I like a lot of ugly songs, but "Lay Me Down" is one that's absolutely beautiful. It's such a pleasure as it fills my ears, so rich, flush and lovely. I'm a Canadian-Scot, but these Irishmen impress me to no end; there's only a bare handful of artists with three songs in my favourite hundred - people like The Beatles, Cat Power, Tom Waits and Radiohead, - but The Frames carry just such a crown. (The songs in question are "Lay Me Down," "Seven Day Mile," and "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops".) Their new album is out now. And when I visit Ireland, I will buy it. [buy 2001's For the Birds]

The Marquis de Tren and Bonnie Prince Billy - "II/XV". I don't usually feel odd talking about a song. Songs are sound - they're snatches of melody and harmony and words, ideas rattling in a pouch. Throw in another idea (a cockamamie expressionist analogy, say, or a "this makes me feel like...") and nothing's lost. There's simply another idea in there, knocking against the others. The song might change, but hopefully it's just another tone you hear, a new rhythm that you could follow to its completion.

I sort of feel different about "II/XV". I feel like a new rhythm might upset the old one, that it might make that first perfect thing harder to hear. Like static on a NASA radio, chopping up an astronaut's goodbye. So I'll be careful.

This is one of the most serious songs I own. It doesn't feel so serious - it lacks the gravitas of Cohen or Cave or Conor - but the lightness of Oldham's voice is misleading. He sings like these are casual observations, slow stoned thoughts.

If you listen, though (and this is a song where the lyrics must be listened to), they're not. They're not casual, they're not stoned. They're delicate, purposeful, invested with a whole heart. (I don't mean 'delicate' like filigree, or rosepetals. I mean 'delicate' like skin that could easily bruise.) A human being's bare hopes, awkward and simple and so important. Vulnerable, above all else. They're laid out with weird sounds, and at any time, someone could laugh. Someone could mock or snort or roll their eyes.

But the bravest thing, the most awful and wonderful thing, is that someone does roll their eyes. Someone does mock or snort, or turn away. And it's at the center of the song.

I'll never know why Will Oldham decided to do write and sing this song. Why he made it into something so beautiful, not a self-deprecating dirge. I'll never know what Mick Turner (of the Dirty Three, and aka The Marquis de Tren,) thought. Whether he was nervous in the studio, growing guitar sounds like soft green plants. Whether the two looked at each-other during the recording.

Everyone will have to deal with hurt. "II/XV" is the way I hope one day to be able to bear it. It's music of devastating loss and fragile serenity; music of pain and beauty, self and nothing. Like Gillian Welch's "I Dream a Highway," I imagine it as the sound or nirvana.

---

Next, some things I've never shared, and which you doubtless know, but about which I thought, as part of this farewell, I ought to make sure.

Van Morrison - "Astral Weeks". Astral Weeks, released in 1968, is one of the greatest works of music ever recorded. I first heard it when we were crowded around my house's living-room, on one of those first nights in Montreal. We had a discman on the floor, two little computer speakers beside it. These were people I had only just met - sudden friends drawn from Ottawa and Italy and Montreal and Virginia. Every moment felt new, felt special. A hormone high ("home on high"?) as we played records for each other, trying to explain the stars we saw in our special songs, trying to describe the magic of Gomez's dock smoke, the majesty of a Puccini aria. Maya put on "Astral Weeks." None of us were thrilled at the idea of Van "Moon Dance" Morrison, nor by the CD's goofy 1960s cover. But it opened as it does, like we're coming into something a few seconds late, and as soon as the strings shivered to life - well, I was struck. My desperate desire to play more for my friends, to share more of my favourite songs, disappeared. All I wanted to hear was the rough lilt of Van Morrison's maniac voice, the other instruments' crazy swooning seriousness. Van sings like a maniac, like a poet who's so excited he can hardly talk - he can only sing. The spirit of it is big and bold and brave and loud, and good! "Standing in your sad arrest / trying to do my very best." Reading the finest bits of James Joyce, I think only of Astral Weeks - the "slipstream" of words and the breathless wonder of life, the yeses that close Ulysses and the epiphanies of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. And the other musicians! I was in such awe when I learned J's step-dad is Warren Smith, percussionist. Listen to that jazz, the wistful humanity of it. The bass, violin, flute, guitar and percussion are separate but united, amazing talents, fluttering brilliant accidents that make you believe in god or humanity - marvels of coincidence and human fellowship. How can something like Astral Weeks happen? How can it just happen!? Who could compose this? Who could improvise it? It's like a sky that grabs you at that perfect moment, the synchronicity of senses that makes you catch your breath. A song that takes "the dust of familiarity off ... [that makes] it feel new, rich, full of possibility, like I could walk up it and do something different for a change". Most of the album is like this - beautiful words painted in smokeplumes across an enormous sky, messages you look up and notice and which make your day something different. "Astral Weeks" is a joy, "Madame George" is a wonder, and "Sweet Thing" is something so special you don't give it to just everyone. Astral Weeks is an album for when feeling conclusions become breathless beginnings, for when the world blinks and we're "born again" and all roads lie open. "And I'm pushin' on the door." [buy]

---

Finally (it is finally, isn't it?)

Glenn Gould - "Aria da Capo," from the Goldberg Variations, by J.S. Bach. For the last ten nights, after turning off all the lights, I have sat in bed, stared into the dark, and listened to this piece. The "Aria" is not, like several of the other Variations, particularly complex or technically difficult. It's not that I need multiple listens to figure it out, or to follow the different melodic lines. No - what keeps me coming back is the grace of it. Bach and Gould present something unsettling, unhappy, and then work it through. The struggle is note-perfect, and so beautiful you might not notice it at all. But it's there: In the way some notes hold back, or the way Gould holds on to particular chords.

I was talking with Jordan once about love and happiness... That no matter what you want to feel, no matter what you think you should feel, all that matters is what you do feel. You'll twist yourself into psychic knots, pushing toward the truth you prefer. You'll twist, tear, and break.

But we tread these difficult paths all the same. We ask hard questions: How do you find beauty in the inevitable? How do you be good, and honest? How do you be happy, and true? How do you reconcile the desire to stay, and the need to go?

I find some answers here.

I'm projecting, certainly, as I draw comfort from the notes, reverberations and silences. Some of me is casting a shadow over the song. I'm informing the way I hear Glenn Gould, hear his hums and murmurs in the background, his instant decisions to sound, hold or withdraw a note. But that will always be the way, and it's no use fighting it. The listener takes from songs, and so too does he give. I needn't be embarassed - only aware. And if I find serenity in this music, if my melancholy finds answer and rest, neither Gould nor Bach would resent me. No; I think they sought the same things. And I thank them.

Incidentally, thank you all, as well.

Glenn Gould recorded the Goldberg Variations twice. In 1955, when he was 23, and again in 1981. This is taken from the latter, recorded eighteen months before he died. [buy both]

---

"And as you leave, the room is filled with music, laughing, music,
dancing, music all around the room
And all the little boys come around, walking away from it all
So cold
And as you're about to leave
She jumps up and says Hey love, you forgot your gloves."

a la prochaine.

Posted by Sean at September 19, 2004 5:37 PM
Comments

You're the best, Sean. Thanks for all your encouragement and contributions. I'll try and keep in touch via the email. Vaya con dios, mi amigo!

Posted by forksclovetofu at September 19, 2004 5:41 PM

Good journey, Sean, and thanks for all the sounds and words.

One note on Van: I can understand, sort of, thinking the Van of "Moondance" is a lightweight rhapsodist if that's all you know. But once you know the Van of "Astral Weeks" (and "T.B. Sheets"), doesn't that make you see "Moondance" differently? The desperation of "Astral Weeks" remains; only the despair is gone, as he struggles with the possibility of joy. Not to overstate it but if "Astral Weeks" is Van's "Inferno" (or maybe "Purgatorio," I dunno, it's a shitty analogy), then maybe "Moondance" is his "Paradiso" (or maybe "Purgatorio," who the hell knows?).

Posted by rodii at September 19, 2004 6:00 PM

Huh. Seems to have eaten my comment. Well, it was a note thanking you for your work here, you've given me plenty to pursue, and urging you to have fun and be careful.

Posted by Tuwa at September 19, 2004 6:07 PM

A beautifully composed goodbye. I would expect nothing less from you, Sean. Again, I wish you luck and joy and excitement on your escapades through Europe. Until next time. Adieu.

Posted by Adrienne at September 19, 2004 6:20 PM

bon voyage Sean. my morning web routine will have a void for sure. stay safe and be well.

Posted by bmr at September 19, 2004 9:25 PM

Montreal's missing a wheel without you, Sean.

Posted by Andrew at September 19, 2004 10:41 PM

Arresting music, sean. Be safe, be happy.

Posted by Ken at September 19, 2004 10:51 PM

It's been real.

Your seat can be kept warm, but you can never be replaced Sean.

I'll do my best to keep in touch. You'd best do the same. Enjoy Europe.

Posted by Keith at September 19, 2004 11:24 PM

you'll be missed... but I'll definitely be giving this new fellow a fair shake. best of luck to you on your trip.

Posted by TayBridgeDisaster at September 19, 2004 11:34 PM

au revoir. be safe.

Posted by Elliott at September 20, 2004 12:37 AM

I'm actually gonna say... see you soon!
What you're saying about Morrison's album ("How can it just happen!?") is exactly what I think of many albums of that period (Hendrix in particular).

Posted by Matthew at September 20, 2004 4:55 AM

Hey, enjoy your trip. Will miss your wonderful writings, but hopefully your friend will be capable.

tim.

Posted by tim byron at September 20, 2004 6:08 AM

Hi Sean!

The Old World is waiting for you

/K

Posted by KuntaKinte at September 20, 2004 6:37 AM

See You On The Other Side...

Take care Sean.

Simon
x

Posted by Simon at September 20, 2004 6:57 AM

eep! Jay's stepdad is Warren Smith, percussionist!

Posted by anne at September 20, 2004 8:25 AM

... and van is from belfast, not dublin.

but beautiful post, nonetheless. all the more poignant since i'm about to set off on my own adventure from beijing to dublin, mostly overland.

bon voyage.

Posted by matt at September 20, 2004 8:32 AM

Thank you all so much for your warmth and well-wishes. I look forward to seeing many of you soon (and others, perhaps, later!).

rodii - I look forward to the chance to explore your theory. It sounds quite plausible, but I'll need to return to those records and listen. :)

anne and matt - i am wholly embarassed at my errors, and have updated accordingly. bon voyage, matt.

Posted by Sean at September 20, 2004 10:52 AM

you are wholly forgiven!! what a lovely post. have a safe trip, take care of julian, make sure he takes care of you, write me lots, enjoy yourself, etc. muitos beijos.

Posted by anne at September 20, 2004 11:42 AM

best of luck on your journey!

Posted by dana at September 20, 2004 1:22 PM

Nice farewell picks, Sean. I had the same kind of sense of discover with Astral Weeks after giving into a friend's recommendation. Lovely, inspirational album, one that makes me forget how much Moondance usually makes me feel carsick, even when I'm sitting still at my desk. (And yes, it's since become better to me--if only a little).

Have a fine trip and enjoy. Wanted to pass along the thanks to you as well--I never felt the urge to post on one of these kinds of pages prior to stumbling across yours. Keep up the good work; in due time.

-chris

Posted by chris at September 20, 2004 1:54 PM

Have a wonderful journey. Hope you check in every now and then on the comments.

Posted by bw at September 20, 2004 2:17 PM

Much much good luck and happy adventures on your trip, Sean! Man, it seems like just yesterday that you announced this journey--how time flies when you're having fun. And speaking of that, it seems like it was just last week (well, ok, maybe last month) that I discovered yr nifty site & wonderful writing and was inspired to go in the mp3 blog direction myself. Thanks for all the music and amazing, poetic descriptions of same. Godspeed!

Posted by moerex at September 20, 2004 3:36 PM

the new guy is a philosopher, huh? Sounds like an improvement to me. Well let me be the first to extend him an invitation to the Heraclitus blog where both music and philosophy are the name of the game and one of the same.

Posted by Heraclitus at September 20, 2004 5:17 PM

have a great trip sean! keep your eyes and ears wide open! thanks for the songs.

Posted by Elliot at September 20, 2004 5:35 PM

Beyoodiful post, fantastic songs, ya'll come back now, ya hear?

Posted by Adele at September 20, 2004 11:14 PM

Great post. I stumbled across Astral Weeks in a discount bin, saw the date (pre-1974) and bought it. I can honestly say that it made me a Van fanatic.

Token Europe connection- Astral Weeks was one of the full lengths played on the audio channels in the Delta 767 that carried me home from the Old World in July.

Posted by Bill at September 21, 2004 3:36 AM

There've been pretty few weeks, this last year or so, where the track I was digging most in the world wasn't from STG. I'm gonna miss you, man.

Posted by Greg at September 21, 2004 5:32 PM

Buen viaje, amigo, y que todos tus sueos become real (as life)!!
We, here, are enjoyin' your music!
As allways, you rules!

Posted by dario at September 28, 2004 11:34 AM

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about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

To hear a song in your browser, click the and it will begin playing. All songs are also available to download: just right-click the link and choose 'Save as...'

All songs are removed within a few weeks of posting.

Said the Gramophone launched in March 2003, and added songs in November of that year. It was one of the world's first mp3blogs.

If you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch:
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"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by .
PAST AUTHORS
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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