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Sunday, March 6, 2011

353. "People Get Real" by Saint Etienne

I'm feeling pretty lousy today, congested and sort of feverish, so I might be delusional, but I think this one may be my favorite recording from the duration of the 39-40 project. I'm very glad I proceeded with the Foxbase Alpha full album cover/tribute subproject. I almost ditched it for a bunch of reasons, but in the end it's providing some brilliant guest contributions and it's gotten me to do some of my own favorite work.

This one, man, it's one of my favorite songs of all time. I even recall having "People Get Real" on a short list of potential band names at one point. I've always found the fact that it's an update in some ways of a '60s girl-group sound on the one hand, and a nod toward blissed-out club sounds (and to me, the associated dream-pop music that would come to be known as "shoegazer" rock) on the other to be brilliant on its own, but the way the dreamy imagery is punctuated by the jaw-dropping lines "Don't tell me this is precious/Don't tell me this is soulful/No, you have to be, have to be getting me on" before eventually landing back on "Don't stop believing it's real"... that's just sublime right there.

I started off with the idea of doing this as a more literal '60s throwback than the original. The sound I had in mind was maybe halfway between The Byrds (the extra work I put into translating the mid-song synth line to the electric 13-string really paid off) and something breezier like The Searchers or Spanky and Our Gang... maybe the midpoint between those would be The Monkees, I guess. Along the way, partly because my voice is too froggy from my illness to do the real Mamas & Papas treatment to the harmonies, the vocals turned a lot airier and a subterranean homesick fuzz guitar showed up, pushing it a little more toward 4AD/Creation territory. But the sum of the parts, I realized when I was done with the string part, is basically the evil twin of the roughly contemporaneous "Shiny Happy People". That was fine.

I ditched a few ideas that tempted me mightily along the way: putting an ominous break on the "Don't tell me" lines started to seem too obvious, and I've done similar things to highlight undernoticed misanthropic lyrical turns on other songs over the past year, and there was a stereophonic symphony of harmonicas on the bridge than I ultimately deleted because they've become a bit of a crutch for me. The drums are actually an edited version of the part Derek played on a recording of Cliff's tune "Last Request", which has a very different feel from this. It's a little unsteady in a way that makes a lot more sense with the tune it was played for, but I was dead set on having Skates & Rays do one of the Foxbase tunes, and with Derek being too injured to play, this was the only way I was going to pull it off. Lastly, I plum forgot that I was going to yell "Get on the floor and look real sexy!" during the bridge.

The craziest part of this, though, was the recording of the vocal. While singing the first lead track, the combination of how happy I was with the backing track and how much I love the song really touched a nerve with me, and by the time I hit my beloved "you have to be getting me on" line, I was actually crying. It's still on there, you can hear it; that had never happened before, so it seemed obnoxious not to preserve it. In fact, when I doubled the vocal, it happened again. There are four vocals in total so it's not the weep-fest it could be, but it's real. I had an overwhelming feeling of having done something very good. I don't think it was a simple reaction to this track, but to the entire 39-40 project as well. The song felt like a benediction of sorts, probably the last "important" work I'll do.

The irony of the fact that the last words I'm singing on this are "Don't stop believing" after having excoriated the Journey tune in the course of describing my cover of "Transmission" is not lost on me. My friend Jim Poe (who also suggested the Foxbase excursion) mentioned being a little freaked out by the "hate" I expressed in that piece, and I've been a little haunted by that ever since, not being the type who likes to think of myself as either too musically snobbish or ferchrissake hateful. And I think I came to understand a bit of what that socially important musical nostalgia is all about here. I've been a little muddled in my thinking about my own musical development and maybe even the whole meaning of music and memory in a social sense. Journey seems like prom music to me, formative high school stuff, and my high school music was largely postpunk and college rock with some '60s psych and a lot of Velvet Underground thrown in... R.E.M., The Replacements, The Bunnymen and so forth.

But that was anything but social music; that was in-my-bedroom rock-music-saved-my-life music. My true social music phase, the joy-of-being-in-a-community with like-minded (musically and otherwise) friends, was college, and while Sonic Youth and The Pixies and Neil Young made the trip with me, it was largely a whole different, and not especially well-remembered scene then. It was Saint Etienne. It was 808 State and A Tribe Called Quest, Ride and Lush, Public Enemy and The Orb, Happy Mondays, Paul's Boutique and Loveless and a lot of other tenuously-connected and ill-remembered stuff that was overshadowed by what the '90s went on to become, but which still strikes me as great and powerful, far more full of the joy of discovery and the possibilities of the new than so much of what came after. But I guess it wouldn't have mattered if it was that great or not: it was my soundtrack to my time. It was my arena rock. And if it was what you heard at every bar mitzvah or karaoke bar today, and some little aging twit with a blog just didn't get it, no, I wouldn't much care either. That'd be his problem, really, and too bad he can't loosen up. So I guess that's my After School Special moment for today: I really do have a lot yet to learn.

Oh, and there really is no reason for Miki Berenyi being the cover model, other than that I thought of her in the throes of my overemotional reaction to this track, and I love her, is all.

SKATES & RAYS (sort of)
Rex Broome ~ Vocals, guitars, bass, MIDI stuff
Derek Hanna ~ Repurposed drums
Clifford Ulrich ~ Composition from which said drums were repurposed

1 comment:

  1. simply beautiful, rex. i got a little weepy myself. this is one of my all time favs as well. i wanted it to be the theme music of my green party radio show in boston; but my cohorts preferred the stone roses' fool's gold. no, i'm not putting you on.