I hope you had a nice birthday. I meant to send a card but Labor Day snuck up on me, and then I got busy moving some boxes around and I lost track of time. It’s always hard to reconnect (and this is almost certainly not the best way to do it), but I had to do something.
I always think of you when the Kentucky State Fair comes around, how hard you work. I just don’t know how you manage to review all those crappy concerts, but there you were, soldiering on, plugging away with reasonable perspective, clever wordplay and nary a complaint about the chore. You deserve a prize of some sort.
The last time we spoke, in January, I had promised you two record reviews, for Antietam’s “Opus Mixtum” and Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” but a variety of circumstances derailed me. The first problem was that I had been set up to have such high expectations for Antietam’s double-CD. The review copy showed up, like, four months before the release date, and then you gave me a copy, which made me feel bad because I guess I should have told you to keep it, but, honestly, I thought it might be a good idea to have two because I might lose one of them. (At this point, I still have both, if you want one back.)
Then, sometime in January, you sent a note advising that the (local daily newspaper) was upping the pay rate for record reviews, but for some reason the 50 percent raise didn’t move me. I had been writing record reviews for the (local daily newspaper) since December 1989, but I always had higher ambitions. I certainly never expected to be working for double-figures well into my forties.
It didn’t help that the Antietam record wasn’t what I was expecting. I had assumed that their first double would be a masterpiece: bombastic and intense but even-mannered, textured, well-rounded and ultimately satisfying in every way. A controlled storm of emotion and six-string pyrotechnics. Man, it was gonna be awesome!
But then it turns out that Tara Key, Tim Harris and company pulled a “Youie.” How DO you spell that word? You know, the familiar for “U-turn?” I dunno. “U-ee?” Anyway, “Opus Mixtum” is a low-key affair. Tara’s wailing guitar is still there, but it’s muted … and layered with a variety of other guitar sounds. Acoustic, electric, strummy, peeling. There’s a bunch of strangely melancholy instrumentals.
There’s rage in it, but it’s more like a letter of resignation. For a band that’s been playing together for 25 years, with little more notice than glowing comparisons to Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr., the meaning behind the words Waiting for a ship that never comes (from the song “Shipshape”) is tragically obvious. Worse, their “Opus” seems to be a tribute to disappointment, the soundtrack to a montage of midlife crises, a series of fuzzily remembered moments of gloriously misspent lives flashing by in slow motion, highlighted by mistakes that refuse to recede, haunting even the sweetest possibilities that remain. Or maybe that’s just me projecting my own sense of crippling failure upon their work.
Anyway, I didn’t feel like laying all that out for the (local daily newspaper)’s readership. The fact that the (local daily newspaper’s Saturday supplement) had become little more than a catalog circular for the local department stores didn’t help; it doesn’t feel like a legitimate outlet for criticism anymore, you know? And my take on Antietam ended up being too personal: It short-circuited me to the point of not being able to listen to anything but David Bowie for about three months. Sorry about your luck, Radiohead. (That record, by the way, was pretty good, as I recall, but, of course, I can’t find it anymore.)
I hope you can forgive me for letting you down. And maybe next time we see each other out at some show, we can catch up some. In the meantime, I’ve been riding my bicycle more and more, and I’m planning to ride down to the river one of these days soon and see if I can spot one of those otters that Jamie Tittle seemed to find so easily. I’ll never be able to shake the image of them dancing around in the rushing waters, the way he used to describe them, with such joy, but I feel like I need to see them for myself.
All my best,
For further listening, consider: Bob Dylan, “Bringing It All Back Home,” tracks three, six and 10, primarily, but really, the whole album, and then, of course, “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits,” track nine.
Paul Curry’s musings about culture will appear every other week in this publication.