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Thursday, April 1, 2010

14. "Blue 'n' Groovy" by Paraffin Jack Flash Ltd.

I'm going to generously classify this one as a "noble failure"

It seemed fortuitous that The Machine pulled up an instrumental track for me on the day I was taking the kids to Disneyland. Particularly a track that was all style and little substance. Not that this recording is bad... it features many of the earmarks of the great Space Age Pop sound which I was so elated to (re-)discover in the '90s for the weirdness it had truly been: exotica percussion, dementedly fuzzed-out jazz guitar, Tijuana Brass horns and tasty organ tones, and the group's name kills it with fire. But formalistically it's a 12-bar blues, and I don't think I need to reinterpret that trope, at least when there are no lyrics to mangle and I can't play horn charts. That located us squarely back in audio pastiche territory.

It seemed natural (to me, at least) to work the Disneyland trip into the process of the recording. The kids and I used cellphones to ask random park visitors to respond to the title phrase of the song. This produced some interesting results, one of which was the realization that while most people at Disneyland won't totally ignore crazy-seeming requests by a guy and three kids, they aren't as uninhibited as you might expect. Another thing we say firsthand was the weirdness of cultural reduction over time: the word "groovy" evoked the '60s, '70's and the '80s, depending on who you asked, and an overwhelming number of interviewees (well, 3 out of 4 direct citations) associated it directly with Scooby Doo. Didn't see that one coming.

But when we got the recordings home, they just plain weren't that good. I'd sort of expected the cheapo method of sound gathering to have its own post-digital Alam Lomax-y charm, but honestly, no matter how I converted it or re-recorded it, it just sound shrill and lousy. Struggling through that problem, I further screwed myself by trying to overlay 4/4 dance beats on a 6/8 swing rhythm. I've heard it done on many a Ninja Tune compilation and figured I could handle it. Sorry about that. Again I tried to manufacture some charm out of the ramshackle nature of the process, then kicked it in the head, tried to patch it up with some of my own guitar and bass, and called it a night, with some lessons learned. The End.



"Noble failure" is probably too kind. It's tough listening no matter how foregivingly you approach it. Most of what is said about is true, though: almost everything that could've made the interview segments comprehensible above the music bed was tried, to no avail. At that point the whole concept should've been ditched, but it remains tough to do that, even at the end of the project. The tempo and time-signature matching problems, those I would learn to handle or avoid a dozen different ways.

I guess the lasting import of this experiment was that one of the quickie ways I'd envisioned to dash off a song on a busy day was to just plain sing it into a cell phone and upload it later, but this debacle sort of closed that avenue, the only subsequent recording I can recall which dealt with cell phones in any way being this one. Without a doubt I could have figured out how to directly send phone messages and recordings directly to my hard drive and use them; God knows I mastered more obscure and complex technologies than that over the course of 39-40, and I think the fact that I never did so has more to do with my antipathy toward cell phones themselves.

Okay, antipathy hell... I really don't like cell phones much. I describe myself as a medium-tech individual, but it's really more like I'm selective-tech. Wireless internet access is pretty essential to my life these days, and I'm fairly sophisticated in my understanding of most digital technologies about which I give a shit (whilst also being a bit of an admitted fetishist for antiquated tech as well). But I was never a phone person to begin with, and my early experience with cell phones coincided with the collapse of my first marriage and the lonely grisly aftermath. So all I remember were endless, unwanted conversations with the ex which were basically unending vilifications of my person to be endured in the vain hope of getting some time with my kids, depressing conversations with divorce lawyers, then bankruptcy lawyers, then creditors, and relaying horrible news to my parents and having to beg for assistance, that kind of phone life, sprinkled with the occasional chats with women I was dating or hoping to date, largely centered on trying to act like none of the above was happening and I was a normal human being intimacy with whom should not terrify them. So, cell phones, while I appreciate that none of this is your fault, still, go to hell because I hate you and always will. So there.


  1. Amusingly (to me, at least), when the original came up in my car playlist, I found myself thinking, hey, this is kinda cool...especially when that guitar solo came in (love that tone!) - and found myself thinking, this would be a tough one to cover for me, because it depends entirely on things like that guitar tone, the quality of the playing, etc. The amusement is, of course, that at first I did not know the song was in my playlist because it had been selected by Your Machine...and that you had already had to cover it. (Your version is on my next CD-R...haven't heard it yet.)

  2. The guitar tone on the original doth kill. There are rewards aplenty on these types of records which are in no way kitschy (even when the song to which they are attached is)... the Enoch Light version of "Scarborough Fair" remains as frightening and bizarre a recording as I've ever heard. Of anything, anywhere.