Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Last Vulgar thoughts

It seems likely* that Lethem's upcoming novel is a tip of the hat to that song on the Vulgar Boatmen's second album. And I always assumed that the group's first album, 1990's You and Your Sister, got its title from the song by ex–Big Star member Chris Bell. (The VB album also has a very good song by the same name, though not a cover of the Bell song.)

Bell was recording a solo album when he died in a car crash in 1978; it was released as I Am the Cosmos by Rykodisc in 1992, around the time I started listening to the Vulgar Boatmen. Whether this reflects Bell's final vision for his first album (six years in the making) can't be known—my feeling is that it's a shadow of his ideal version. The title track and "You and Your Sister" are seared in my memory—gorgeous, stately, the voice making hairpin turns in the ether—but the rest of the album has faded. (There are 15 tracks, but the last three are alternate takes of the two aforementioned tunes, which Amazon tells me shared either side of a single, the one solo release in Bell's lifetime.)

(Much more detail at this site called "Wikipedia.")

I like the idea of the Vulgar Boatmen titling their first album after a song by an artist who was barely there. (The VB album precedes the release of the Bell album by two years, so they must have been fans of the single—released, Amazon tells me, by dB'er Chris Stamey's Car label, the name grimly ironic given Bell's death.) Hopefully the Lethem book will create an uptick in interest in the Vulgar Boatmen...I'd like to end today's sermon with this quote from Charles Portis's Gringos:
Frank didn’t write anything, or at least he didn’t publish anything… The Olmecs didn’t like to show their art around either. They buried it twenty-five feet deep in the earth and came back with spades to check up on it every ten years or so, to make sure it was still there, unviolated. Then they covered it up again.

*But—maybe I'm completely off base! Check out what the Driftwood Singers have posted—a Roky Erikson tune also entitled "You Don't Love Me Yet," from 1985, which might actually be closer to the time period of the new Lethem book. (Curious iPod-as-memory fact/coincidence: In the early ’90s, I liked the band Poi Dog Pondering; the only PDP songs that have survived in iPodded form are the covers of "Love Vigilantes" and...Roky Erikson's "I Had to Tell You," which came up on the shuffle yesterday. And the only currently iPodded VB song I have is "You Don't Love Me Yet." This all connects somehow, yes?)

UPDATE: Breaking news — Dizzyhead Benno reports that the book's epigraphs are quotes from both the VB song and the RE song. Brilliant!

UPDATE (2/23): From Rob Sheffield's memoir Love Is a Mix Tape—check out the first song on the first mix (via Very Short List):

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