WARMER MIXTAPES #1468 | by Benjamin Jacob Seretan [Ben Seretan] of Ben Seretan Group, Thee Obsidian Gong, Fayaway, VALES, Blushing and Duchampion
This is a list of some of my favorite songs, as in pretty easily available recordings of certain performances. This excludes memorable personal Live Music experiences - seeing Swans recently, for instance - as well as my favorite compositions or albums - Alice Coltrane's Infinite Chants, varied gamelan recordings, some by Lou Harrison, or Music For 18 Musicians, for instance.
1. Bill Callahan | The Breeze/My Baby Cries (Loren Mazzacane & Kath Bloom Cover)
I love Bill Callahan - his voice is a reassuring wooden oar easy to grab onto while drowning. And I love Kath Bloom - I once saw her perform to five people in the backroom of a bar with a skylight. She was happy the five of us were there. And this is easily one of the most devastating songs I've ever heard, and when it first came to me I listened to it for weeks straight, huddling with it clutched to my chest in the dark. It whimpered like a small, hurt animal. I used to know of a triangle-shaped apartment that was shared by four extremely beautiful women. One day the five of us were hanging out huddled around their Stereo, which was in the farthest, pointiest corner of the room. It was hot and raining (summer in New York) and we took turns playing songs for each other, mostly Jeff Buckley. Eventually I felt brave enough to put this cover on and for the first time all day we sat in total silence. The song finished and we all kept staring out the window, saying nothing and watching the fat drops of rain burst apart on the sill. Later we shot roman candles off of their roof, screaming, having passed through the dense fog of this song together. This song kills from the first line - I'd like to touch you, but I've forgotten how. Tell me that doesn't make you miss someone! But this is no ordinary sad song. Sad songs are everywhere. They're great, but they're ubiquitous. No, this is something more. Listen to the song. Do you hear that high-pitched whisper, like steam escaping from a kettle in the apartment upstairs? That persistent, barely-audible C#? It's the sound of a cello being very lightly touched, the suggestion of a touch - the ghost-touch mentioned in the first line of the lyrics. It's the embodied Sound of Optimism, the slight Glimmer of Hope that you might find gleaming like a gold coin in the muddiest river banks of Heartbreak. This beautiful song suggests a way out, and for that it is nearly cruel in its total beauty. When I saw Kath Bloom play that afternoon, somebody asked her to play The Breeze. She said, No. I can't. That's Bill's song now.
2. The Staple Singers | Uncloudy Day
You hear everything you need to know about how amazing this song is within 5 seconds of hitting play - the huge, bassy guitar strums, the very strong tremolo flavor, and that undeniable power of a couple generations of a family singing their balls off together. I love The Staple Singers - they are, for my money, the best American Road-Trip Music in the World. They also touched on an amazing array of points and figures in 20th-Century American Music - Pops Staples learned guitar from Blues legend Charlie Patton, they appeared in The Last Waltz singing The Band's biggest hit, they were on Stax, they were on Curtis Mayfield's label, they covered the Talking Heads (in fact Pops Staples even has an acting role in the David Byrne/Talking Heads film True Stories), and Mavis would even go on to work extensively with Jeff Tweedy. They're Folk, they're R&B, they're Gospel, they're New Wave, they're Blues, they're Country, etc. Also if you put on their song Let's Do it Again on the Stereo in the company of somebody you wanna get down with, well - your chances are gonna improve. This song is also incredibly bad ass - Minimal, with just electric guitar and four voices. And the lyrics: Oh, they tell me of an uncloudy day. The inclusion of They as the subject gives this song a jaded, almost sarcastic bite... As if to say, Oh, yea - those happy, sunny people over there tell me that everything is gonna be fine in our Promised Kingdom. But us here singing? We know that shit is fucked up. That uncloudy day - as they call it - is never gonna come. This family of singers is in the know. And they gonna tell you about it.
3. Black Flag | My War
My brother is a lot older than me, so when he was first developing an interest in fucking shit up and getting drunk, I was still in Pre-School. I only have vague recollections of him getting in trouble for things - for going from table to table finishing people's leftover beers at a local pizza place, for shoplifting, for owning a Black Flag t-shirt with a Raymond Pettibon drawing on it. He'd die his hair pink and his teenage world seemed scary, unruly and, I would later learn, cool as fuck. I can remember a bunch of musicians seeming really scary to me when I was a kid. I went to church a lot when I was younger, and I maintained a real and palpable fear of Satan. Slayer, for instance, terrified me. Their CDs seemed to possess a dark gravity, like being around their pentagrams and swords would actually draw me to Hell. The Grateful Dead, also, somehow fell into this category. Their obsession with skeletons and dancing bears repelled me. Of course, Slayer is goofy as hell with some of the most brilliantly dumb lyrics ever penned. The Grateful Dead are musically totally harmless - I was in fact very disappointed when I heard American Beauty for the first time, thinking it feel cool. I like their Music, but it's not cool and it's not scary. This song, though? This fucking song? This song is fucking terrifying. You always hear that story about Henry Rollins - that when Black Flag toured he chose to ride in the trailer with the gear instead of in a seat in the van. He'd sit locked in the dark - like a rabid dog - drinking thermos after thermos of black coffee and punching the metal walls. By the end of the song, that's the only image that fits. Even the song's production suggests this - Rollins sounds further and further away from the microphone as he becomes more and more agitated (and less and less in control), i.e. you hear more and more of the room closing in.
4. Janet Jackson | Alright
I've lived in New York City for five years and I constantly feel like I'm emerging from the most difficult period of my life. I feel an abundance of many other things as well, but this feeling of triumphal emergence persists and returns - as crocuses do in Spring - at nearly every major juncture of my life, be it the departure from a terrible job, the end of a difficult season of weather, moving neighborhoods, breakups, what have you. And in those moments - those moments of stepping clear onto solid sand from a sinking boat - this song right here is the perfect, upbeat, reassuring New-Love Love song. You just wanna bop on down the street, wiping a tear of relief from your cheek, knowing that everything - you, your lover, your friends, and everything else - is doing alright. This is also my stand-in track for these various important streams in Music: 80s superstars, the Jacksons, New Jack Swing, breathy, powerful Pop Divas, and Minneapolis generally including, by proxy, the Purple One himself (who I worship, by the way, but I had difficulty including just one track of his on this list). In the Music Video for this track, Janet Jackson - dressed to the 90s in a zoot suit - dances down the street with two of her buds after hop-scotching with some little kids. A worker from a bakery emerges to the street with a plate of hot bagels. The trio of zoot suiters jauntily stick up their index fingers and the baker, delighted, tosses them each a piping hot breakfast pastry. Their fingers - obviously, as dictated by the reassuring logic of the track - receive the bagels with glee. Later, Cab Calloway makes an appearance. I love all of that.
5. Joanna Newsom | Sadie
This song is wonderful and perfect. Joanna Newsom touches the Divine. Sometimes I think I'm on to something - that what I can do with my guitar or my voice is worthwhile, or that I've written a particularly good turn of phrase. This song forever reminds me that there is work to be done. MUCH work to be done.
6. Pet Shop Boys | Always On My Mind (Gwen McCrae's 'You Were Always On My Mind' Cover)
This is one of those rare breakup songs where the protagonist is admitting fault - though the narrator may have remained ever fond of the person to whom they are singing, they did not try hard enough. They have failed. When Willie Nelson sings this song, I get the impression that he has cheated on somebody one too many times, or perhaps has relapsed into alcoholism. The Pet Shop Boys - of course - turn this song into a club-banger for the ages, full of luscious, ludicrous cowbell, four-on-the-floor, and synthesizer horn-section goodness. One possible reading of this song is that there is a dismissive sarcasm to the narrator's pleas, that the narrator is living it the fuck up outside of this recently terminated relationship and that the pair has run into each other on the dance floor. Well, now - maybe I didn't treat you as I should. In this view, the "little things" that should have been said and done are trivialized and negated. This reading is extremely sassy. I prefer this listening, however - that the ludicrously heavy kick drum and the soaring melodies of this turnt-up Country ballad are indicating this attitude, rendered best in caps lock: WHAT A FUCKING PRIVILEGE AND A PLEASURE TO OWN THIS BROKEN HEART AND GO ON LIVING - THE PAIN THAT I FEEL, DARLING, AT OUR SEPARATION IS SWEET BECAUSE MY FEELINGS RUN DEEP. THERE IS A WIDE AND WONDERFUL BUFFET OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE AVAILABLE TO HUMANS ON EARTH. HOW MANY AMONG US HAVE FELT THIS GLORIOUS HEARTBREAK AS I HAVE? I LOVED YOU, SWEETHEART, THOUGH I FAILED YOU, AND MAY WE BE SUBLIMATED INTO THE GREAT SWIRL OF HUMANITY. MAY MY HEART BREAK AGAIN AND AGAIN, PROVING THAT I AM CAPABLE OF LOVE WITH ALL MY BEING.
7. Neil Young | Albuquerque
Play the pedal steel part from this song at my funeral. Listen to the way Neil has awkwardly set the word Albuquerque to Music. The group sings along, barely finding the syllables in the dark. It's as clumsy and as graceful as the first drunken kiss.
8. Pharoah Sanders | Love Is Everywhere
The songs that are special to you have power - real, warm, electric, golden-light power that fill up one's heart the way the headlights of a subway car fill up the dark of the tunnel. They provide nourishment. They provide emotional fulfillment, so much so that your body responds physically. They are a comfort. A warm bath, a warm meal lovingly prepared, a human embrace. This past holiday season, I went to my guitar player's family's house for a big Christmas party. I took the bus to New Jersey, and there was an abundance of food, a ton of people, and some really spirited drinking and gift exchanging. It was lovely. I was to fly out to California to see my own family the next day, but I made sure to stop by the house of the person I had just started seeing. I couldn't stay long - my plane left early in the morning and I had to pack - but I slipped in to bed with her, under her body-warmed comforter drunk on Human Kindness, and we laughed until our sides hurt. That's how this song makes me feel.
9. Arthur Russell | The Name Of The Next Song
Nearly everything in Arthur Russell's exhaustive and wildly varied catalog is worthy of being selected as one's favorite song. The pastoral bliss of anything off of Love Is Overtaking Me or the divine drum machine splendor of Calling Out Of Context offer plenty of choice cuts. I had trouble selecting but one for this list - I asked myself: Do I write about the pure melancholy I feel when listening to Our Last Night Together, about how I remember walking to my girlfriend's house across campus the night of Graduation? How I passed a fraternity blasting Bruce Springsteen at 4 in the morning? How we didn't kiss or undress or even turn off the lights before we fell asleep in each other's arms? How that was spiritually our last night together? Do I write about how I wrote about and performed his Music for the thesis of my Music degree? How I heard his songs a million times and never - not once - grew tired of his voice's intimacy and innocence? How my affection for his Dance material would lead me - not once, but many times - to dance fiercely and alone in Manhattan to DJ Francois Kevorkian, an associate of Russell's who I admired by association? How I loved him in a simple way? Because I played cello as a child? And, now that I no longer own a cello, how I miss the secret power of owning such a beautiful wooden instrument?... I picked this song because it demonstrates the tossed-off quality of Russell's brilliance - he often stuck to Allen Ginsberg's motto of First Thought/Best Thought, especially with this cello songs, and here he just continues on, like that 30 second passage of cello, voice, and electronics wasn't fucking earth-shattering-ly beautiful. Plus I love the way he sings California. I'm a sucker for someone singing the word California.
10. Joni Mitchell | The Circle Game
When my Mom first played me Joni Mitchell's live album (it was early, we were on our way to School, her car was red with a surprisingly good Stereo), I had a number of somewhat terrifying realizations: People can play guitar like this? People can sing like this? Wait, what's a dulcimer? My Mom is vibing to this song hard and re-living a bygone era? She knew people before my father? She seems to have had a long life full of drug experiments, sexual bliss, and heartache? She, too, was a teenager once? And Music spoke to her? As if a burning bush? This here bush burns still. And what's more is that Joni apparently re-lit this fire night after night, to thunderous applause. There's a long intro on this tune - she talks about how painters only have to make their thing once, while she has to perform her songs over and over again. Then - with utter tenderness - she invites the audience to sing along. With this particular composition, she observes, the melody sounds better with more out-of-tune voices. In an old interview with Rolling Stone, she said that she felt as transparent as the plastic wrap on a box of cigarettes. What strength! To subject yourself to that cruel clearness again and again! With grace!