Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tom Reynolds Interview: Part Two

In which the author of I Hate Myself and Want to Die explains why The Smiths didn't make the cut, why Harry Chapin is sicker than Slayer, and why I'm (mostly) forgiven for my affection for Counting Crows. (The third and final part will be posted later tonight or tomorrow.)

You write: “Selecting the most depressing Cure song is like choosing your favorite locust in a locust swarm: You pretty much have your pick, but does it really make any difference?” You went with “Prayers for Rain” as your locust, but what were some of the other final candidates from The Cure?

To be honest, I included the grim goth groups like the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, etc., because I figured I was expected to. Those were hard because I find their music to be less depressing since the gloominess is intentional. With The Cure, I didn’t find them quite as gloomy as The Smiths, if only because Robert Smith isn’t as sexually tortured as Morrissey is. Song-wise, “The Drowning Man” and “All Cats Are Grey” were two candidates, but I’m very proud that I chose “Prayers for Rain,” because even die-hard Cure fans missed that one. A few were even pissed off about it.

The Smiths aren't included in the book, for reasons that I remember reading about, and that you may or may not go into here, as you see fit. When I told a friend they were a last-minute omission, he said, “Yes, the original subtitle was ‘The 127 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard.’ ” I’m a pretty big Smiths fan, and I’m wondering what two or three songs of theirs you find most depressing, and why.

That The Smiths aren’t included in the book has been the bane of my publishing existence. I’m still getting slammed by critics, bloggers, and depressing music aficionados because of it. The truth is, I’d planned to include one of several of their songs but my original UK publisher, Sanctuary Books, was a division of Sanctuary Group, which was also Morrissey’s record company at the time. They sent my analysis of “Miserable Lie” to his management as a “courtesy,” since he was on their roster. Suffice to say, they weren’t happy and demanded it be removed. And that’s why no Smiths songs made the book.

As far as depressing Smiths songs go, they’re just like The Cure: you pretty much have your pick. Besides “Miserable Lie,” there was “I Know It’s Over,” “Girlfriend in a Coma,” “Suffer Little Children,” etc. Actually, most of their albums are doom-fests, though Johnny Marr was a great guitar player, very innovative.

You’re very caustic and funny about every band in the book, but there seem to be a few cases where you really twist the knife in the song, but make an effort to protect the artist’s overall catalog from your wrath. I’m thinking of your pieces on Springsteen (“The River”), Billy Joel (“Captain Jack”), Ben Folds (“Brick”), and even Whitney Houston to a degree (“I Will Always Love You”). Am I right about those in particular? And which five singers or groups mentioned in the book do you most unironically enjoy when you’re not eviscerating them for readers?

I didn’t want readers to get the impression I didn’t like these artists, even though I’ve never been the biggest Boss fan (sorry, Asbury Park). Pundits have impaled Billy Joel far more viciously than I ever could have and Whitney I just plain feel sorry for (she needs to dump that Bobby idiot muy pronto if she ever wants a career again).

As far as artists listed in the book, I’ve always been a huge Pink Floyd fan, including the nutty early stuff with Syd Barrett (RIP Madcap). It’s just The Wall is.....too much. That’s when Roger Waters started going too nutso.

Others include Joy Division, The Carpenters (seriously), Jimmy Webb, The Doors (“Peace Frog” kicks ass), Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The Verve Pipe has done a few good songs, Bobby Darin is kitschy fun, and Billie Holiday’s a legend.

You chose “Round Here” by Counting Crows as one of the 52. I particularly like this observation about the song’s main character, Maria, since I’ve often found this lyric perplexing myself: “So, yeah, Maria’s a little odd. She’s not very bright, either, since Duritz sings how she left Nashville and came all the way to the West Coast to find a guy ‘who looks like Elvis’ (correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Memphis right down the highway from Nashville?)” The question here is a brief one (feel free to expound, though). Trying to leave aside the fact that you don’t know me at all, on a scale of 1 to 10 -- 1 being no change and 10 being the equivalent of finding Nazi memorabilia in my attic -- how much of your respect do I lose by admitting that I’m a fairly unrepentant Counting Crows fan?

None whatsoever. I have their first album from whence “Round Here” comes and it’s a great debut. But that song got played to death and I got more dispirited each time I heard it, especially when Maria “is thinking of jumping....” And I believe we both have scary memories of seeing Counting Crows perform this song years ago on Saturday Night Live and Duritz looked like his meds had just worn off. He went through a very self-indulgent eccentric phase which became increasingly more annoying and every reviewer at their concerts made note of it. Their most recent stuff I find very uninspired and phoned-in, especially that Whatever in Love song they did for the Shrek movie. Awful.

You divide the book up into categories, the last of which is Perfect Storms, which you describe this way: “Perfect storms occur when songwriters, attempting to create an emotionally affecting song, swing for the catharsis fence but end up fouling into the grandstand, wiping out 1,000 nuns and orphans. There’s an inherent cluelessness to perfect storms, with the perpetrator completely unaware of the catastrophe that’s been unleashed. They’re the audio equivalent of a Donner Party guide loudly insisting he knows the way through the pass.” Given the cluelessness you describe, do you think it’s at all possible to sit down and purposefully -- even malevolently -- create a Perfect Storm? I often have this argument with friends, about whether or not we could consciously write a successful dumb-but-bestselling novel that adheres to certain genre requirements. I usually argue we couldn’t, or we’d do it and be stinking rich (otherwise, we’re choosing not to become stinking rich, which makes us even more incredibly stupid than we are for having the debate in the first place).

In my opinion, it’s impossible to intentionally write a Perfect Storm depressing song because, like “camp,” the main quality to one is Unawareness. If you set out to purposely write the most depressing song ever, you’ll just end up with a jokey one.

If I may be so bold, I refuse to see any play, musical, one-act, revue, whatever that bills itself as being “camp,” because I know it’s going to suck. If two East Village playwrights collaborate on a musical called “Bikini Zombie Massacre A Go Go,” and cheerfully declare it a “camp” production, I will Molotov it with flaming bottles of Rex-all brand vodka.

Like depressing songs, camp has to be unintentional and I will duel anybody who disagrees. It has to be so bad that it's good, and the reason it's bad is BECAUSE the author honestly feels he or she created something great. Plan 9 from Outer Space is a classic camp movie because Ed Wood thought it was a masterpiece. Rocky Horror Picture Show, while entertaining, is not camp. It’s just a silly musical.

This is why most goth, death metal, emo, et al., bores the shit out of me. Its listeners bring a whole lot of their own baggage to it, which is why it’s easy to write a so-called "dark" goth song. No, it takes a truly sick mind to write an appalling tune like "The Shortest Story," Harry Chapin’s earnest ode to a malnourished African baby, than some tedious swill by Slayer.

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Anonymous Shannon C. said...

Just wanted to pop in and say that I have really been enjoying the interview so far. I have laughed out loud several times (in a laughing with, not laughing at kind of way).

4:45 PM  

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