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.



Yo La Tengo - "Before We Stopped To Think".

I guess that covering a song is like waving a flag. I guess it is. Temporarily, for two or three or four minutes, you are stepping inside the lines that another artist painted on the ground; you are stepping inside their circle, hoisting and waving their flag. It is a little like dating the same person. It is a little like moving into the same apartment. Maybe sometimes you are waving the flag ironically, dating the person ironically, ironically living in a high-rise with a pool. But it is difficult to pull off these ironical things. Mostly I think you are just kinda trying to wave that flag you love, to watch its colours change in the day's different bands of sunlight.

"Before We Stopped To Think" was originally recorded by a band called Great Plains. Their version is winsome and jangly, with a thin line of synthesizer. Yo La Tengo, on the other hand, make the song sound drowsy and sincere, the kind of drowsy and sincere that happens at the very end of a night, in the early morning, when the stars are at their loudest, your voice is worn out. Perhaps it is a strange way to cover someone: to sing their song but to sing it all worn out.

But then my favourite covers aren't purely about celebrating another song. To interpret a song is to engage with it on a deeper level than mere advocacy. It is the same with writing or talking about music: on your best days, strive to be more than a champion. You must commit to what you are doing; you must give it stakes; it must be possible to fail. Maybe you fail because you lack the ability, perhaps because you do not manage to express yourself in this particular instant, perhaps because you run out of strength or patience or the means to continue.

Yo La Tengo's performance of "Before We Stopped To Think" is like waving a flag. It is like stepping inside the lines that Great Plains painted on the ground, hoisting and waving their flag. But before Yo La Tengo raised that flag they lived for thirty years in the circle that Great Plains had painted. They listened to this song, listened and listened, tried to understand this ring in the dirt. Maybe they stared at Great Plains' high flag and felt a flicker of recognition in their hearts. Maybe immediately, maybe after some time. But eventually the moment came that Ira or Georgia or James or Dave decided that they could play their own version with sufficient clarity of intention that it would be possible to fail. In the singing, the brushes on drums, the low bass, Dave's searching electric guitar: they could raise this same flag in a way that's honest and true, vulnerable, valiant. You can hear it in the recording, the way this is so. A flag in the air, an old flag, star-spangled like it's new.

[buy / thanks Charles]

Posted by Sean at September 8, 2015 12:35 AM
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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.

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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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our favourite blogs
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Destination: Out
Endless Banquet
A Grammar (Nitsuh Abebe)
Ill Doctrine
A London Salmagundi
Words and Music
Petites planétes
Gorilla vs Bear
Silent Shout
Clouds of Evil
The Dolby Apposition
Awesome Tapes from Africa
Matana Roberts
Pitchfork Reviews Reviews
i like you [podcast]
Nicola Meighan
radiolab [podcast]
CKUT Music
plethoric pundrigrions
Wattled Smoky Honeyeater
The Clear-Minded Creative
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Juan and Only
Horses Think
White Hotel
Then Play Long (Marcello Carlin)
Uno Moralez
Coming Up For Air (Matt Forsythe)
my love for you is a stampede of horses
It's Nice That
Song, by Toad
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The Rest is Noise (Alex Ross)
My Daguerreotype Boyfriend
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