Deconstructing the past – Galaxie 500
I just wrote one of these for eMusic, which’ll doubtless show up in the next day or so.
It seems like a great device. Here’s how it works. I take a review I wrote back in the day, and then I footnote it to all hell and beyond, trying to get underneath my own skin. First up, a review of Galaxie 500’s ‘Blue Thunder’, Single Of The Week, Melody Maker, 22 January 1990.
Perfection: this has sepulchral bass, guitars which caress and crumble as through an opium-drenched haze, straining out-of-tune vocals which never quite attain, a wired saxophone which burst in just when you don’t need it, silence so full of wailing noise as to make you shiver with awe every time. ‘Blue Thunder’ is the sound of a storm brewing, oppressively, in the eventide.
‘Victory Garden’, a Red Crayola song (recommendation enough in itself), returns more to the standard Galaxie fare – with a bass that hurts, so high does it climb. And on the flip, Joy Division’s ‘Ceremony’ betters even this, burdened down by a feeling of claustrophobia caused by thinking too much and too often. The guitar echoes into eternity, the bass, when it starts upon that timeless riff, makes you wish to God Ian Curtis had never been born, such is its maddening power.
Galaxie 500 eclipse every other group of their genre (Spacemen 3, Dinosaur Jr, Valentines, et al – those who would choose to suck us in and immerse us in the sheer emotional potency of the guitar) by several thousand eons. That’s how I feel today, anyway.
Damn, what a stupid start. No song is perfect. None. I was trying to put across the way the music had so overwhelmed me. Yet this song – more than almost any of Galaxie 500’s repertoire – can in no way be saddled with that description. There is so much wrong with it. This, of course, makes the fact it works even more magical.
this has sepulchral bass, guitars which caress and crumble as through an opium-drenched haze, straining out-of-tune vocals which never quite attain, a wired saxophone which burst in just when you don’t need it,
I really couldn’t write back then. Christ knows why the sub-editors let this go through. Maybe they figured it was too much effort to tighten up, and anyway, the Singles page was always one of the final ones to come in. ‘Sepulchral bass’? Editors at the music press liked me because I had relentless enthusiasm and relentless self-belief and was not scared of standing up to be counted. More importantly than that, I knew my own tastes – and for 20 years, my tastes were heartland UK music press territory. I was first. I was always first. Galaxie 500 were one of mine: Simon Reynolds was quick on the follow-up. I didn’t know what an opium-drenched haze was (it took me years to discover that). I was projecting into a falseness, in an attempt to describe the music. I still felt I needed to describe the music. Damn. What a bozo. I was still masking what I wanted to say behind flowery words. The latter half of this sentence works fine, but really I should have said: Dean Wareham can’t quite hit the notes he’s reaching for, and man that’s disorientating over such a meticulous rhythm section. The sax just confused the hell out of me. Still does.
It doesn’t mean I don’t still love the song, but I should have just acknowledged the fact.
silence so full of wailing noise as to make you shiver with awe every time.
I like this. Except, why the final four words? Entirely unnecessary, detracts from the force of what I’m saying. I couldn’t write or at least edit. I was in awe of Galaxie 500, though: so much so, that when the opportunity arose for me to meet them (in the pool room at Islington’s Powerhaus, just down the road from my old place of work as a screen-printer) I hid from them, because I was seriously worried the effect it’d have on my listening to their music, knowing them as people. I needn’t have worried, of course. All three were sweethearts towards me, and would look after me whenever I came through NYC (Dean) or Boston (Damon and Naomi).
‘Blue Thunder’ is the sound of a storm brewing, oppressively, in the eventide.
Yeah, that’s all right. A bit obvious though, don’t you think? Must have taken me days to come up with that one.
‘Victory Garden’, a Red Crayola song (recommendation enough in itself),
We all listened to the same records, we all sang from the same song sheet. And when we didn’t, it was so easy to play catch-up. Note to aspiring music critics, the words in parentheses by themselves are a way to establish authority (especially before the days of Google) – not only does the critic throw in an obscure reference point, but he’s also showing he knows where the band are coming from. Oh, and I used the less common spelling of Red Crayola’s name, just cos I could.
returns more to the standard Galaxie fare – with a bass that hurts, so high does it climb.
Yeah, that’s OK. I’m not entirely certain the vast majority of Melody Maker readers would’ve known what “standard Galaxie fare” was, in 1990.
And on the flip, Joy Division’s ‘Ceremony’ betters even this, burdened down by a feeling of claustrophobia caused by thinking too much and too often.
I would imagine I was fully aware that ‘Ceremony’ was better-known as New Order’s first single, but that it was also one of Joy Division’s final songs. I probably saw them perform it a couple of times. Again, I was establishing my credentials as a critic who really knew his stuff – yes, fuck, sure, I was way more hip than you were; yes, sure, fuck, I was willing to rub it in people’s faces. No wonder readers found me infuriating (and still do)! Notice the use of the words “on the flip”. I was reviewing this on – I want to say 12-inch vinyl, but I have a feeling it was seven.
What the f…?
the bass, when it starts upon that timeless riff, makes you wish to God Ian Curtis had never been born, such is its maddening power.
Yeah well. I was still writing as someone who was so drunk, so depressed, so fucked up, that I imagined myself possessed by the spirit of Ian Curtis after he died, and once tried to hurl myself from a second-floor window. (While people were watching, natch. Sigh.) I ceremoniously disposed of all my Joy Division records a short time afterwards, and in fact the first time I played a Joy Division song in my own house was about five years back, the day I was informed of the fact my dad would almost certainly be dead within three months. (He was.) Fireworks burst among the clouds in the sky. It was beautiful.
But yeah. I never could resist the maddening power of the bass riff to ‘Ceremony’. And I still believe Galaxie 500’s version is even more moving than Joy Division’s … not that music is a competition or anything. This was the real reason I was making this single Single Of The Week, but for some reason I didn’t state that. Maybe I’m being revisionist here. If so, it’s not deliberate.
Galaxie 500 eclipse every other group of their genre (Spacemen 3, Dinosaur Jr, Valentines, et al – those who would choose to suck us in and immerse us in the sheer emotional potency of the guitar) by several thousand eons.
Interesting I should seek to place those four bands together – and in a genre? I guess I was referring to the fact I was only then coming to terms with the fact it was OK to like bands for their guitar sound. Another incredibly clumsy sentence, and horrible attempt at hyperbole. Chris Roberts, Simon Reynolds, the Stud Brothers, David Stubbs … these were the masters at their craft and art. Back then, I was an unkempt enthusiastic outsider with a massive chip on his shoulder, kind of boorish at the crystal elite parties. Stubbs told me that folk were impressed by people who could drink, so I learned how to drink and never backed down. Why would I? I had fucking nothing – nothing – to lose. I knew my taste was right even if I couldn’t express my love for music quite the way I wanted, often.
This sentence was also a reaffirmation of the general Melody Maker hive-mind at the time. This was what set our paper apart. I believe the other three mentioned bands had all been cover stars shortly before. I’m not sure Galaxie 500 ever made it that far, but my memory could be playing tricks.
That’s how I feel today, anyway.
Thank Bangs I threw that in. Honesty, at last!