Sunday, April 6, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 96):"I WANT TO LIVE ON AN ABSTRACT PLAIN" (1994), Frank Black

Today is the birthday of Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV. Never heard of him? How about Black Francis, or Frank Black? Yeah, they’re all the same dude. And he’s now 49.

In choosing a song for today to honor the man, I didn’t want to do a song by The Pixies, not because there aren’t an abundance of great songs by The Pixies, but because my more intensive interaction with Mr. Thompson was in the late Nineties when I finally heard all his solo albums up to that time, which was the time when he formed a group called Frank Black and the Catholics and played at Toad’s Place. It was loud, it was hot, it was cut-throat rock’n’roll. We loved it.

So there were many songs to choose from and I was tempted to take something from the first album with the Catholics, from 1998. And yet. This song, today, “I Want to Live on an Abstract Plain” cried out to me the way it cried out to me when I first heard, probably around 1996 or 97 the album it’s from: Teenager of the Year. It’s an album of over an hour of music and it runs through a lot of great short songs, just like The Pixies’ albums do. I almost picked “Calistan” because I get such a kick from it, always, but then I have to admit I’m not sure what he’s singing about there. Is it a real place, an imagined place? What’s the prevailing idea? I think I know, for me, but, y’know, it’s all speculation.

Whereas “Abstract Plain” I know I can get behind quite easily. I mean, I’m the guy whose biography, my old Philly friend Rick used to say, should be called “Driven to Abstraction.”  Yeah. In my youth I really shied away from the kind of autobiographical bits that pepper these posts and, what’s more, I realized early on that I was fated to be discontented with any and every real place. I could commune with a painting, with a fiction, with a poem—those things made life worth living. Real places and people and other creatures, not so much. They always let me down if only because they aren’t, well, imaginary. Which is, I guess, a way of saying that I could imagine much better than life has ever provided.  Maybe that’s true of you too? Well, if it is, you may just enjoy this song.

I’ve had it with this town / I never saw those shifting skies / I never saw the ground / Or the sunset rise / I want to live on an abstract plane.

Now the notion that “I’ve had it with this town” tends to come upon me, seasonally at least. But it could be any town I’ve had it with. The one I’m in just happens to be the one I’m in. Because “shifting skies” and a “rising sunset” are just figures for something that you want to be happening that’s not happening. But on an abstract plane—that place where one’s mind goes to be alone—it could all be going on. Independent of what Aristotle was fond of calling “accidents.” Which is everything that actually happened because, you see, that was just causal, not essential. The causal, then, could “just as easily” have been something else. It was dictated by circumstance, not by logical necessity. And only the logically necessary exists on the abstract plane.

Now you might say, logically, that the sunset has to “go down” not rise. Except you know that the earth’s horizon is rising, the sun isn’t going anywhere. That’s the kind of thing you get used to on the abstract plane: the perceptions of your stuck-in-the-mud coordinates don’t mean jack shit.

“I think about that paint / Painted in plein air,” may be one of my favorite lines, as “A place to put my ten-yard stare.”  I’ve never painted in plein air but I’ve dreamed of it, what’s more I’ve always believed in the heroism of doing so, because, y’know, there you are remaking those stuck-in-the-mud coordinates of your individual perspective into a lasting image that supersedes them, as you see any time you look at a landscape painting in a museum. “Where that is” is physically present but only by reference to an object that both is and isn’t what it represents. That’s the kind of thing we get off on, on the abstract plane.

“I need a new address / I want some new terrain.”  Amen, Brother Black.  Amen.

The song isn’t such a far cry from The Pixies, except that Francis, or Frank, or whatever, has gotten a bit more tuneful and doesn’t seem to feel the need to be so elliptical. Most of the songs on this album, I guess I’m saying, sound benign. Compare today’s song to something like “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” to see what I mean. Which, by the way, is one of my favorite Pixies songs and maybe I’ll get to it someday. If not here, online, then maybe on an abstract plane.

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