Something quite magical typically happens around September. I’m old enough now to anticipate it happening, but I’ve yet to be able to accurately target from where the feeling will come. I’ll usually start pulling out my favorite autumn classic records (which I’m sure I’ll post about in the future) to let the mix of nostalgia and welcome weather change trigger the emotional blooming season. Normally, the new addition to my ever-growing collection of fall records doesn’t really manifest itself until around October and I’ll not realize its memorable impact until long after the fact. This year was an exception.
This past Monday, for the first time post summer heat and humidity oppression, I got to throw on a hat and hoodie to start my day. During my morning internet rounds, I found a free download (via Last.fm) of the band HEALTH’s cover of the Pictureplane tune “Goth Star”, and the feeling of fall came much sooner than I was expecting. It was perfect, and everything fell into place.
There a few aspects I find interesting about this piece. For starters, I’m not really someone who focuses so much on lyrics. For me, the evocative aspects of music lie in the soundscapes. I think it’s why, as much as I love rock and roll, I’m just as much moved by a well produced hip-hop track or electronic piece. (Pick your sub-genre. I’m pretty open to all of them.) The original version of “Goth Star”, sans the R&B vocal sample that’s essentially unintelligible, had no lyrics. HEALTH’s version adds subtle lyrical vamps which add to the melancholy feel of the tune.
All we have is lost…
Beg for what you want…
I find it interesting that so many current bands cover the songs of their contemporaries. Another good example of this is Small Black’s cover of Best Coast’s “Sun Was High(And So Was I)”. Certainly this isn’t some new phenomenon, as it was more commonplace pre-MTV era. However, the prior practice was more about songs being sold by dedicated songwriters to performers, rather than the current model of bands writing their own music (mostly…at least as far as rock bands are concerned). Unlike this former “business model”, these covers feel more sincere and facilitate a sense of community amongst indie acts. It hearkens back to Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones covering Bob Dylan songs (“All Along The Watchtower” and “Like A Rolling Stone”, respectively). What makes this instance unique, to me, is the genre crossing. Pictureplane is primarily an electronic act, where as HEALTH is a traditional rock 4-piece (think Nine Inch Nails with more colorful clothing and less overt religious imagery). The de-stigmatization of using synths and samplers in rock and roll enables a lot of this cross-cultural tributing and allows for more accurate recreation of the original pieces.
Look, I live in the American Southeast and I know good and well this bit of cold snap is just a tease. It’ll be 90 degrees again, most likely within the week, and proper autumn weather won’t settle in ‘til most likely late October. However, with all of the other auxiliary aspects of fall kicking off (pun half intended) like football and a new school year/semester, it’s nice to have a soundtrack to welcome in my favorite part of the year. Lucky for me, it’s a cover of a song I like by a band I like. Cheers…
- HEALTH – “Goth Star” (Pictureplane Cover) (stereogum.com)
- Listen: HEALTH Cover Pictureplane (pitchfork.com)
- Concert Picks: Men Without Hats, The Jadewalkers, Pictureplane… (beatcrave.com)
- Can I Just Say… (ericswett.wordpress.com)
- Pictureplane – “Negative Slave” Video (stereogum.com)
- Pictureplane: Thee Physical (Review) (popmatters.com)
If rap music has power ballads, then this may be its finest. I was 13 in the spring of 1993, the same time MTV began airing the music video for what would become Ice Cube’s most recognized anthem. In 1993, MTV was one of the two ways I learned about new music (the other being my sister away at college and the mix tapes she would make me…bands with crazy names like Hootie and the Blowfish and Counting Crows). The problem was my parents, who didn’t care for MTV any more than they cared for my burgeoning sense of fashion. For that reason, most of my viewing took place when I had the house to myself. It was then, as a 13-year-old suburban white boy, that I realized I loved rap music.
There was and is something altogether relaxing about “It Was a Good Day.” Perhaps it’s the laid back sampling, the steady, if not monotonous melody that loops throughout the track and invited me into an average day in South Central Los Angeles. Maybe it’s Ice Cube’s delivery, which is never rushed, making it all the easier for me to rap along with.
Just wakin’ up in the mornin’ gotta thank God
I don’t know but today seems kinda odd
No barkin’ from the dog, no smog
And mama cooked a breakfast with no hog.
Ice Cube likes pork products for breakfast? This I could relate to. Hooking up with girls and wondering if I’d live to see another day? Not so much. But sausage biscuits? I feel that. For real. Of course the music video made the lyrics come alive. Ice Cube looked like a total badass cruising the city streets in his classic candy apple green Chevy Impala, the hydraulics thrusting the car up and down to match the beat. Of course I was unfamiliar with the entire vernacular. “Brew,” “chronic,” and certainly “punanny” were all foreign nouns as far as I was concerned. My sheltered childhood had left me behind my public school contemporaries, but thanks to a largely descriptive music video, I was quickly putting two and two together. It wasn’t just the depiction of casual sex and recreational drug use that seemed so authentic, or for that matter, so raw. It was the flow of the words, not unlike poetry, that grabbed me. It was unlike anything I had heard up until that point. Granted, my only real exposure to rap had been M.C. Hammer and (please understand that it pains me to write this) DC Talk, which would be a little bit like only ever eating at the Olive Garden before moving to Italy. There was no comparison. I was hooked on the phrasing, the clever word play, the ability to weave a story into four minutes of rhymes. Both Vanilla Ice and Snow had ruined everything for white rappers a few years before, and Eminem had yet to break through, so I doubted a career was in the cards for me. That, however, didn’t stop me from rapping in the car, in the shower, and in my head.
And it still hasn’t.
Drunk as hell but no throwing up
Halfway home and my pager’s still blowing up
Today I didn’t even have to use my AK
I gotta say it was a good day.
- “Remember That?” Track Of The Day: Ice Cube (ksfm.radio.com)
- John Singleton in talks with Ice Cube to direct N.W.A. biopic (geektyrant.com)
- Eazy E Biography (mademan.com)
- Ice Cube — Still Reluctant to Talk N.W.A. Breakup (tmz.com)
- 10 Best West Coast Rap Music Lyrics (mademan.com)