Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Beyond-Believer

At BoingBoing, Douglas Rushkoff has a lovely mention of Personal Days (along with Sara Ryan's The Rules for Hearts, one of "Two Fast Reads...with surprisingly enduring flavor"), calling it among other things a "black comedy about downsizing [that] brings an almost Beckett-like sense of reduction to the dwindling office."

I'm especially psyched by his mention of Elvis Costello's "Beyond Belief," the first track on Imperial Bedroom. It's a song about which I have had a couple of thoughts over the years!

1) I might have read this somewhere, can't remember, but: One fascinating thing about this shortish song is that the melody is constantly changing. Can you call the verses verses? The chords are very simple: D-G, D-F for the most part (with a G-Gm for the bridge and the single "chorus," see below); he (w)rings ceaseless changes out of this progression, his voice hunting high and low, as they say...

2) ...which led me to think of this song as E.C.'s self-conscious statement on his own songwriting prowess, which was arguably at its peak on IB. (The song's placement at the start of this album supports this view—a salvo of sorts.) He inundates the song with cliché in order to show how effortlessly he can move beyond it; wordplay and puns abound; he piles on hook after hook so that there is no single hook—the energy and invention never flag.

And to what end? Why squander it, spend it all, on such a short song (2m 34s.)? I think this is E.C. realizing the power of his talent (which will be on full if less furious display on IB), demonstrating it in superconcentrated form. "Just like the canals on Mars or the Great Barrier Reef, I come to you beyond belief," he sings at the end of the bridge. He's a force of nature.

But this isn't braggadocio; E.C. will also acknowledge the pitfalls of such a talent. In the outro (the closest thing to a chorus, the song's single repeated line), he anticipates criticism and also criticizes himself: "I've got a feeling I'm gonna get a lot of grief/Once this seemed so appealing, now I am beyond belief." (Here are all the lyrics.) It's as if he's both dazzled and exasperated by his own abilities.

* * *

Other notes: Bret Easton Ellis's next novel is called Imperial Bedroom, which you could read about here if the L.A. Times would just not get rid of its articles...News of a new Pynchon novel...Levi Stahl on Anthony Powell on Barbara Skelton's memoir, Tears Before Bedtime (which gives its title to track 2 on Imperial Bedroom!)...Delusions of grandeur: I thought Andrew Gelman had invoked Nabokov and James Joyce (in talking about PD)—but no, he was referring to James Jones. Heyyy—I'll still take it!...Phil Nugent on the Biden-Palin debate...Steven Pinker in NYT: "Listeners who hear the Minnewegian sounds of the characters from ‘Fargo’ when they listen to Ms. Palin are on to something: the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska, where she grew up, was settled by farmers from Minnesota during the Depression."

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

View My Stats