I've always been a sucker for really heart pained lo-fi music. Not heart pained in the sense of heartbreaks or lovers. More music that catches the tails of a heartstring, nesting from raw human emotion. This music is usually poorly recorded, questionably sung, and quality live performances can be a shot in the dark. Yet certain people can repeatedly create songs that don't add up on paper, yet always tug at your heart.
One song that always haunted me is BMX Crash by Isaac Brock. It is only about 25 seconds long and has a mere two lines, but after several listens it really sticks to your sides like soul food, and by the time it has been digested it is rattling around in your head for the remainder of the day, trip, experience, lunar cycle. There's not much to say about the song itself, there is not much to it. But my God does it follow me around.
It was recorded on Isaac's answering machine as part of his Dial-O-Song he had as his outgoing message. I believe the songs would rotate or it would play a different song off a small library each time. All of these 30 second or less demos got tacked on to the end of Modest Mouse's Sad Sappy Sucker album. This was their first recorded album, but it was shelved and later released with these early demos tacked on to it.
The only lines are, "Trailer park bike racing, Goddamn didn't we go fast? Trailer park bike racing, oh no at night we'll crash." Yet some how everything about growing up poor in a wooded hick town rings through those two lines. You can not really even make out what he is saying, but the same meaning still comes across. Surprisingly, a lot of profound feelings come from those two lines.
Trailer park bike racing could mean any sort of ridiculous game him and his friends came up with when they were bored living in the woods. It's the next part that gives the line its value. Goddamn didn't we go fast? I mean it's a lot like childhood. When it was happening you often thought this sucks, man I wish I was older, bigger, a grown up. Looking back it is always gee, I wish I could be a kid again, not a care in the world. But Isaac is referring to more than that. It's a sort of admission, almost lack of self worth of yep we're trailer park trash, I've got no future in this town, but man did we not have a good time that one time? Goddman didn't we go fast? It's a sort of nostalgia or creating a sweet memory out of a bad time. Finding the beauty after the fact, when you don't always have time to appreciate them as they unfold. Creating a permanent artifact better than the actual experience.
The lyric is a lot like Elizabeth Cotten's - Shake Sugaree. Shake Sugaree is about a person losing everything they ever owned, flat broke, cold in hand. Yet reflecting back as everything is being taken away, they think but didn't we shake sugaree? In other words, didn't we live it up one last time? Didn't we have one last celebration that they can't take from us? Similar to Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Picking cotton as a slave in the middle of a blazing Alabama afternoon of sweltering heat and little rest is nothing to ever rejoice about. Yet Swing Low Sweet Chariot is full of rejoice as well as sorrow. It's psychosomatic hope. It's knowing there isn't any real hope, but you'll have a heart full of hope anyways. The time singing that song was awful, but the song is beautiful and that is what's remembered. Goddamn didn't we go fast?
Then next line, Oh no at night we'll crash, has the courage to face what lies ahead. You know the future is bleak. You took a chance to have an exciting escape from reality, but as it's ending you know you're going to pay in the end. It's like when poor people blow it all in Vegas because they want to fill alive and like a powerful rich person for once in their lives. Or when Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke keeps trying to escape from prison even though he knows he's going to eventually get shot and killed in the end. That slim chance of a short amount of freedom is better than a lifetime of imprisonment. That little bit of hope one person has can carry everybody else through. You ride it as far as you can, hoping you can avoid the inevitable. But deep down inside you know that a certain fate is waiting for you. You have to crash at some point. Just enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Modest Mouse/Isaac Brock - BMX Crash
Daniel Johnston is a singer I have known about for some time but have not gotten the chance to actually listen to some of his recordings until about a month ago. I even went to Austin and saw one of his famous murals before listening to his music.
"Walking The Cow" is the song that really stuck out to me upon first meeting Mr. Johnston. The song is simply haunting. Simply haunting. I heard so many other artists' songs when listening to this, that I realized how influential he really has been. I do not see how it is possible Isaac Brock started making music with out hearing Daniel's early recordings. I mean it is exactly what Isaac was doing on his Dial-O-Song demos. When I first heard Walking The Cow I immediately thought of the BMX Crash song. The similarities are striking to me so that is why I am posting these two songs.
It is child like, to say the least. Unlike many songs that hit the listener with a powerful dose of nostalgia (like the above song), Daniel is pure innocence and naivity. With his pre-adolescent like high pitched singing and Mel Bay like amateur keyboard melodies, one can imagine a thirteen year old boy playing this song. However, he sings with too much pain and experience for a little boy. "Lucky stars, in your eyes" just seems like such a fantastic lyric when Daniel sings it that one can make so much sense out of it. He does this by using a very simplistic approach that keys in on basic feelings and childish desires values we all share. Yet can only come from the intelligence and issues that an adult Daniel has obtained.
I am unaware of how much he is conscious of all of this. Whether any of it is meditated. Whether it is all due to his illness, how much of it is from his medication and illness advancement, is it due to his inability to create more complex art, or if he is merely that simple thinking, but with an uncanny ability to relate in matters of the heart. What ever its reason and motivation, it works well in very short doses.
Daniel Johnston - Walking The Cow