Sunday, September 14, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 257): "ON THE ROOF" (1986) The Feelies

It would seem that fall has arrived in a day. That day was yesterday, with rain and coolness. And now it feels like summer is gone. At least for the nonce. A long walk today in the glories of that.

And this season of mellow fruitfulness brings to mind The Feelies’ second album, The Good Earth. I’m not sure what time of year it was released, but it was certainly fall and the start of another year of college when I got some songs on a tape from my friend Tim. I know I eventually got the whole LP from him, and it became one of those car tapes this time of year. Those were the days of the strum and mumble approach made popular by R.E.M. Indeed, R.E.M. looked to The Feelies’ first album, Crazy Rhythms (1980), as an influence on their sound. It’s a good album for the transition, in my listening tastes, from Talking Heads, who more or less peaked in 1980-83, and what came next. But I didn’t hear it till after The Good Earth was already out and about.

Which song to pick? I have some hesitation because there are three songs on the album that I pulled off as the main tracks—today’s song, the title song, and “Slow Down.” Each of them is on a tape somewhere, giving me a rush of folkiness crossed with that humming, cranking sound I associate with the Velvet Underground’s Live ’69 album. And that album had long been a trusted source of the musical equivalent of amphetamines. The Feelies are actually a little more barbiturate than that, but you know what I mean. With tunes like these you don’t need the drugs, you just enter the space of the song and get a buzz going.

And that was important since, in those days of the late Eighties, I had no truck with substances except for maybe a bit of wine. So whatever highs were coming my way were coming from music with the ability to remind me of my wasted youth, so to speak. And The Good Earth did that—it was because of those mumbling, barely intelligible vocals. The Feelies were a band from up there in northern NJ, near NYC. They felt “local” in the way that the lo-fi, alt wave of new bands generally did. It was “college rock,” in a way, in the way that every college town is kinda like every other college town.

I went with the opening track because, well, it’s the opener. Kicks things off, sets the tone. “I know I / Said you can’t fly / On your way / I hope you’ll be OK.” Sure. Just quoting those rather laconic lines and thinking of how they’re intoned gives me a jolt of how it was in those wasted days, if that’s what they were. What I mean is that there was a lot of time not saying anything. Stoners have a way of being lost in their own mental spheres. Drinking makes people loquacious. The Feelies on this album grasped the value of “few words.” Everything comes down to a sound, to an autumnal feel that is both uplifting and declining. Thrilling. It’s in that keyboard part that comes in after the first vocal, then an electric guitar weighs in, feeling like driving up a mountain while gazing off into vistas. And the “stop for a while” had the sense of being on the road for long periods of time, just going, driving. Then a stop for a while.

In a while / For a while. For a bit there in the 80s, I liked verse—even the kind I was writing—to be a bit more minimal. Playing around with a phrase like “a while.” In a while we’ll (blank) for a while. Who knows what, where, when, how long. Just . . . in a while, for a while.

in the film Something Wild
“Sing a new song / Call me when you’re better.” Psychic costs were assumed. All those thinky pitfalls. Consciousness as fraught with peril. The point was to clear a path for what needed to be thought, and to find the time for things like “realizations,” “inspirations,” “perceptions.” Eventually you might wind up (careful, there) with “interpretations.” But it was better not to get pinned down on such, better not to articulate the whys and wherefores.

Since I was embarked on a field of study that had me putting a lot down on paper, I took a hit, as it were, from The Feelies’ The Good Earth, still letting musicians live the life I couldn’t. Just feeling things, just playing in the band. Working on a new song, riding a riff.

Around 1987 I got a darling of a video camera, a Sony. I remember one day in the fall getting up on the roof of my parents’ house to film a sweeping panorama of the church grounds across the street—often filled with moody swathes of light and dark that time of year—and of course the song I put on the clip was “On the Roof.”

Talk about it / For a while . . .  or not.

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