PEEKING INTO HEAVEN: A conversation with Jason Spaceman (Arthur, 2008)

Peeking Into Heaven

How a brush with death, a haunted guitar and filmmaker Harmony Korine helped Spiritualized’s Jason Spaceman wrestle a new album of narcotic gospel music into being.

Text: Jay Babcock
Photography: Stacy Kranitz

Art direction: Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington

Originally published in Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)

There are some humans who seem specially equipped to not just interact with consciousness-altering drugs, but to thrive from their persistent use. For two decades, English musician Jason Pierce, aka J. Spaceman, seemed to be one of these special specimens. His first band, the succinctly named Spacemen 3, was a triumph of drugs, sound and stubborness—”Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,” “Fucked up inside,” and “For all the fucked up children of the world,” were bandied-about slogans/mottos; Playing With Fire and The Perfect Prescription were album titles; and a serious, incandescent reconciliation of drone, blues, rock n roll, junkie metaphor and primitive psychedelic sound effects was what they achieved. Formed in 1982 with Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom, with whom, astonishingly, Jason shared a birthdate and birthplace hospital, Spacemen 3 burned both ends brightly (if distantly—they never made it to America, and relatively few people saw them in England) before disintegrating in 1991 after a series of truly despicable actions by Kember.

As Spacemen 3 fell to earth, Pierce launched Spiritualized, releasing a series of studio albums in the ’90s combining an ever-broadening musical palate with an audiophile’s attention to detail and a continuing lyrical preoccupation with the idea of Need—need for companionship, for drugs, for hope, for relief from suffering. 1997’s woozy Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, a breakup/lament album of epic musical scope incorporating gospel, noise and sublime bliss-outs, caught the public’s attention unlike any other album Pierce has made before or since, but it should be understood that ALL OF THEM ARE GREAT. Pierce has stuck to his themes, to his minimalist-maximalist vision, and each album—from the coldstar beauty of 1995’s Pure Phase to the orchestral grandeur of 2001’s Let It Come Down to the raw, stoic ache of 2003’s Amazing Grace—offers a variation on that single approach, or to use his metaphor, a single mainline. Live, Spiritualized tend toward the overwhelming; I’ve seen people black out, weep openly, mount each other in joy at shows through the years—if that isn’t evidence of being in the presence of transcendence, I don’t know what is.

When word leaked out in July 2005 that Pierce was in hospital nearing death, most of us assumed that the OD catastrophe (to quote an early Spacemen 3 song) had finally happened. The truth was in some ways scarier—Pierce was down to 110 pounds and taking half-second breaths, with his wife undergoing grief counseling in preparation for the seeming imminent departure—because he had contracted double pneumonia, and a doctor had somehow failed to detect it in an earlier visit.

Almost three years later, on the eve of the release of the new Spiritualized album (punningly titled Songs in A & E—“A & E” is British shorthand for the “Accidents & Emergency” department of a hospital), Arthur meets up with Jason in Williamsburg. Wearing white pants, a white Roky Erickson t-shirt and silver sneakers, Pierce is in good spirits, and with the sunglasses and hair, he seems ageless: it could be 1988, 1998 or 2008. It’s all the same, and yet things have changed. It’s not yet dusk, so Jason insists on Coca-Cola rather than something harder. As we head through the bar to the backyard pebble garden, we pass a large medical poster displaying two human lungs. I gasp. Jason laughs. He’s lived to play with fire another day.

Arthur: Last time I was here in New York, I finally made it inside La Monte Young’s Dream House. You must’ve been there, right?

Jason Pierce: I think I went…last century. That’s a good line. [laughs] I thought it was going to close in the year 2000. It’s quite amazing isn’t it? There’s this weird thing where the slightest shift in your head gives you a different musical tone. I used to have a studio where the room was hopelessly dead. You could barely talk in that room because the words just fall out of your mouth and land down there somewhere. So I used to joke that the sweet spot is actually smaller than your ears are apart. La Monte Young’s thing is like that—it’s almost like the tones are inside of you, in the way that they don’t enter in this area where your head is. They’re kind of internal. And because of that, it’s quite astonishing.

What you hear inside the Dream House is not what you would consider a drone. I think most people think of drones as kind of incredibly comforting. And that space really isn’t. It’s more akin to [New York synth-drone anti-heroes] Suicide, the kind of scream of Suicide. Almost like you get the fear listening to that music. It’s more akin to that than any kind of opiated trance. You always think of drones as being some kind of trance… but not this. It really gets deep inside you, that thing.

So, you’ve made another album-as-album. There’s songs, but there’s also instrumental pieces, and fades, and there are connections between the songs in titles and lyrics and so on. It’s very much of a piece. Do you think that with iTunes, shortened attention spans and all that, are people even interested in listening to full-length albums anymore?

A lot of people ask that, How does it feel right now, people aren’t taking albums, they’re taking tracks. I don’t fucking care. It’s not for me. I’m waiting for when they just want the chorus. Or just the notes A and E. You know? But it doesn’t stop the fact that I make albums. You often read excerpts from books in magazines, but it doesn’t stop the fact that it came from a book. Nobody’s disguising that fact. People have always taken tracks off albums, people have always made compilations, but… You can’t make records for people with short attention spans. If that’s how they are, it doesn’t stop you doing what you’re doing.

I did a show for radio in England recently where you do a kind of A -to-Z of music. So you choose an “A” like Dr. Alimantado, and I had trouble. Like, what the fuck is K? And I could just think of Kraftwerk because my mind went blank, just with the word ‘Kraftwerk.’ I went, Well, Kraftwerk’s fine. It wasn’t until I was going to the radio station that I thought I could have had all the Kings. Or the King, even. Right? But somewhere in trying to think of these bands, somebody said to me, Why don’t you get somebody’s iTunes, hit the letter and it will list all these artists? So I did that and saw all these names come up. And it was actually really hard to choose from just words. And then I went to my records, which are just in disarray, the last thing they’re in is alphabetical order. All of a sudden you’re pulling out these sleeves and you go… I found the Godz record that I’d pretty much been looking at since I was a kid. I was like, Oh wow, there’s my G. Because you’re holding this piece, this thing, this artifact. And suddently it became real easy. It was like you have when you flip through your records and you go, Yeah I’ll play that…

And you might not remember the song title, or even the artist, but you know it’s the second song on Side Two of this compilation album…

Always. I like a record in the same way that I might find a guitar, it’s got some historical context in it. That piece of record went through somebody else. Somebody else has listened to that. Or not. Sometimes you’ll find a record and go, Why did they never play this?

It has a historicity, an aura…

‘Historicity’ sounds very American, that word. [laughs]

You have some old guitars. What’s the one you’re happiest with at the moment?

Probably the one that I wrote this record on, which is the little Gibson from 1929 or 30. It was from a guitar shop in Cincinnati. It wasn’t a random junkshop find, although it was in a cage in the shop because it was absolutely immaculate. It had survived that long and barely looked like… It’d been played, yeah, but it wasn’t beaten. It’s dark. I don’t know what the word is, but this model usually has this trebly sound, but this guitar hasn’t got any of that. We got to play it against all these other guitars at the store, ten or 12 of that model in fact, and the others didn’t come close. It’s really even and dark. It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever played.

Don’t the notes that you play on the guitar actually affect the wood over time?

[puzzled] The wood affects the sound.

But can it happen the other way around? Like, over time doesn’t the guitar’s tone change, or get warped maybe, because of the way it’s been vibrated? Or maybe it’s the wood of that year, the tree it was hewn from…?

It’s a nice notion, isn’t it? [laughs] Yeah it can be like that, if you like. It’s a nice idea.

I don’t think I’m talking completely out of my ass here. I think I read somewhere that concert violins, their sound shifts over time due to…

It’s hard to know… The wood dries out. That’s why the early Telecasters sound like they do, because the wood dries and it’s impossibly resonant. But—I don’t play guitar. I’ve never seen myself as sitting with an acoustic guitar on my lap playing guitar. I just don’t do it.

Wow. So you don’t just sit around playing guitar, out on the porch?

Never. No. I mean, seriously: never. I pick up a guitar when I walk onstage at night. That’s it. Really, seriously.

Do you sit down down at a piano?


Not even just for pleasure?

I don’t. Generally, for my songs, I sing into a tape machine and then work out how to play them afterward. That’s just what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. I sing the melodies in. Sometimes I sing a little lyric in, the complete thing, sometimes it’ll just be fragments. But when I got that guitar, it’s like these songs came attached. Immediately I was playing chords that became “Sitting on Fire,” or the chords that became “Death Take a Fiddle” and they’re sort of like, that’s so far removed from my canon of… I don’t think I’ve ever written a song in a minor key, you know? So this guitar, maybe somebody had been playing an awful lot of minor keys? [smiles] It’s a romantic notion. I don’t really think so. But, that’s what happened—within two weeks, I had the structure of those songs, I had the melodies of those songs. I didn’t have the songs in their entirety, I didn’t have all the words, but I had this collection of songs.

You had a rush. A download—

Yes. In small bytes. [laughter]

There seems to be a more conventional melodic pop songwriting sensibility with the last two Spiritualized albums—“Stop Your Crying,” “Do It All Over Again” and “The Straight and the Narrow” on Let It Come Down; “Lord Let It Rain On Me” and “Lay It Down Slow” on Amazing Grace—but Songs in A & E is loaded with straightahead songs: “Soul on Fire,” “Sweet Talk,” “Baby I’m Just A Fool,” etc. Does it seem that way to you, that the music you make is becoming more melodic, more song-orientated?

It’s always been incredibly simplistic. It’s like hitting the same chord over and over, but within that, there’s always been a song. Maybe over time the song has become a little bit more important. But—these records don’t arrive at the finished thing by accident. Everything’s been tried. Everything’s been gone over. That’s just the way I work, and I like doing it. And the most important thing for me is that work. I don’t have the finished thing and say, ‘Hey this is great.’ The finished thing is the sort of byproduct of that work. And if I apply some of those things to records now, some of those kinds of production ideas or techniques, they sound like the application of a technique to this music. Which sounds pointless. If I do that now, it sounds like I’m just doing something I’ve done before.

But yes, the melody’s in the records from early on. It’s just not so audible in the same way. You know, “Baby I’m Just A Fool” falls in D and G. I think. [smiles] I’ve used those chords forever. And I fight that—I think, ‘I can’t do that again, I’ve got to find some other way to play that.’ But I can’t play it anywhere else. And I can’t sing it anywhere else. ‘Well, I’ll do that again.’ There’s something about hitting that, forever, that gives it this gravitas.

And I fight things like “Soul on Fire,” I fight that kind of pop thing. I think, ‘I can’t do that. I don’t do that.’ But sometimes they just come out like that. That song nearly didn’t get on the album.


Yeah. The song very nearly didn’t get finished because I sort of fight that, I think I should be doing more extreme things. Sometimes as extreme as you want something to be, sometimes it just starts to fall into a space where it is what it is and it makes sense like that. This album finally found its own atmosphere. I think it’s got this kind of low energy hum, like a hospital. It’s not throwing out big shapes or anything, it’s just this kind of low intensity that you get in places like that. And that’s what it is, that’s where it found its space. And all the time I was thinking I should be doing more, it should be more extreme. But it just didn’t go there. Quite a lot of the parts where the pieces were more extended—“I Gotta Fire” had another three or four minutes on it—they just didn’t make any sense. It felt like it was willfully trying to be strange, for no reason. It worked as a collection of songs, in this weird atmosphere. “Borrowed a Gun” very nearly didn’t make it because I thought that just doesn’t sound like me. But then both that and “Soul’s on Fire” sound very much like me, for some reason…

“Borrowed A Gun” seems to be narrated by a son who’s shot up his school, his family, now he’s about to turn the gun on himself. [Jason looks at me like I’m nuts.] Or, um am I projecting…a lot?

Yeah. [laughs] That’s “Borrowed a Gun,” yeah, but that was to do with… I think it’s more metaphorical than that. That’s to do with that sort of lineage. You carry this hereditary thing… Trying to break free and being encumbered by this thing that is life. It’s to do with that, vaguely. But it can be whatever. [playful] If you want it to be about your school, it can be…

“The Waves Crash In” has this gorgeous section at the end, but it’s in a very, very long fade. I had to run over to the stereo and turn it up just to hear it! Why did you mix it that way?

It’s this fight… I thought, I don’t want to write another album about me. I don’t want to be personal. I want to see if I can write these songs that are, like “Soul on Fire,” right, which is kind of a love song in the true sense of that, with all the kinds of things that that’s tainted with as well. It’s not like the “perfect love” song. So I invented these characters that were gonna be in this world formed by the songs on the album. The original title for “The Waves Crash In” was “The Old Man Says Goodbye to His Daughter at the Gate.” And it was just that—this old man saying goodbye to his daughter, she’s old enough to go out into the world. And he was full of love and pride: “I wish could love you, I’m going to love you forever.” The line at the end was her kind of comeback: “I know you think I’m staggering but lately I really have been staggering.” Both senses of the word. This kind of thing, for all the pride in this lineage—

[A girl toddler suddenly runs up to us]

[smiles]—a choice moment to have children in the vicinity—this whole lineage, the future’s invested in the children, the tide of that, and she just kind of fucks up like… like everybody, I guess. So they all had this kind of thing. The lines you hear at the end were originally sung across his lines as a counter-melody, so as he’s singing ‘The waves crash in/The waves crash out,’ the fact that he’s gonna miss this person that he adores, but it’s part of life, she was singing this counter-melody. And it just didn’t work. It just couldn’t mix like that, so it became this kind of frame at the end.

Is “Sweet Talk” about Tony Blair?

No. To be honest, that all fitted in with that fictitious world that made real sense at the time. It’s not specific. It’s about anybody who still has those kinds of narrow views on those kinds of things. Obviously it stemmed from those things but it’s broader than that. It’s almost like that Bertrand Russell thing: War isn’t about who’s right or wrong, it’s about who’s left. The lyric stemmed from that kind of idea. Everybody’s saying where to stand on this, but it’s like you… I mean it’s in the song: he’s standing exactly where he’s fucking standing, which is a million miles away from where anybody’s getting hurt. It’s to do with that. And again, I fought all of that. I was like, I don’t write a song like that. And then I wrote it. And then I said, I can’t release this song. But these songs slipped through the net. [laughs] And my net has tiny little holes. It catches an awful lot.

Do you have a lot of songs you haven’t recorded?

Yeah, quite a lot.


[laughter] I’ve got a net full of them. The weird thing was, after I was away from the album for as long as I was, and then came back to it, all these…The album became suddenly impossibly harrowing because it was more personal, it was more about me than it had been written. You know? The songs just became what they were, they all started to get together. The songs all turned on me!

You have to be careful what you write.

I’ve been told that, numerous times. [laughs] Be careful what you wish for…

So. How does one get double pneumonia?

It’s a bug. You breathe it in, and that’s it. Then you either cope with it or you don’t cope with it. I didn’t cope with it very well, so…

You were taking half-second breaths at one point?

For days. I was like that for days.

How does that work? Wouldn’t the oxygen deprivation—

They push it into you. They give you a mask, I forget what it’s called, that forces air in.

Ah. So, before you’d ended up in the A & E (or what we’d call the emergency ward in America) with double pneumonia, you were having trouble in figuring how to finish the album? What was the problem? You had the songs written…

The original idea was to make almost like a companion piece to Amazing Grace. They almost seemed traditional, the songs. The language of them seemed more like they were written as songs, and they were meant to be collections of songs. The intent was… Well, coming from playing with Evan Parker and Matthew Shipp… They make records that truly are about performance. There’s no application of production. It seemed like I could try and make a record that was about that, about putting the microphone into the performance, and that’s what you get. No reverb, no additional effects. So the reverbs you hear are the reverbs that were in the rooms when we recorded. Because it does seems like if you’ve got nothing to say, no song, something of very little value, you can still dress it up for people’s ears by applying a technique of production. Almost like the way people make things for radio. They say, ‘This works, let’s do a radio mix for say.’ I say making a piece of music specifically for the medium with which you’re trying to sell it is fucked up. I want to make records that are a bit more like that. And like I say, not by accident. It’s not like I haven’t tried to apply those techniques at all. Just to make sure, I backtrack on everything. I go, What would it be like if it was mixed like that, if it had some of that to it? And it just sounded like this dumb thing. You know? Why would you want to do that? Or, why would you want to put reverbs into that? Why would you want to put that kind of sound on that? I’ve done that. I’ve been there with those records. There’s no need to go over that ground again. And, it didn’t sound right.

You did an incredible version of [late Mississippi blues musician] Junior Kimbrough’s “Sad Days Lonely Nights” for the Junior tribute album that Fat Possum put out in 2005. That was pretty raw, pretty extreme…

I remember telling [Fat Possum label chief] Matthew Johnson at the time, I was thinking that the song set the thing for where the album’s going. And then the album kind of wound up not at all anything like that. Because what I had when I came out of hospital was a collection of 11 or so songs that just sounded like a collection of old songs. They weren’t contemporary to my life anymore. They were just all these old songs. Even trying to mix it felt like, it was as if somebody had asked me to remix my first album or something. What’s the purpose?

So what happened that changed everything?

Harmony Korine came to the Daniel Johnston tribute show, and asked me if I’d do music for Mister Lonely. Which put me into a studio, working with music. I didn’t have to front it. I didn’t have to say, These are my songs, this is my record… It’s hugely liberating just working with music and sound spaces. I saw that as an opportunity to get back into my album, and worked both in parallel, and they bled into each other. There’s bits of the film that are in my album, certainly lots of the atmospheres. My album suddenly developed an atmosphere that was filmic. And also, just being around Harmony… In my world, his undertaking is vast. My undertaking by contrast seems relatively tiny. So to work alongside and be around somebody who’d taken on this huge thing and embraced it with all the unique craziness that is Harmony Korine. He’s amazing, Harmony. It was great to be involved with something like that—although my involvement in it was small—and it was also fortuitous, because I really had no idea how I was going to finish my record.

And all the instrumental tracks on A & E are called ‘Harmony 1,’ ‘Harmony 2,’ etc.

Yeah, kind of by way of thank you, but also they are harmonic pieces, it’s not just a… Clever, that! [laughs] His name’s clever in that way, you know. Harmony Korine: he’s a good man.

Have you seen the finished film?

I was at a screening recently, and I was able to finally watch it as if I was completely unconnected to it, and I didn’t know Harmony, the narrative, any of the characters. And it kind of all made sense. I thought it was really really beautiful. Which was a relief. [laughs]

Did you think the Werner Herzog storyline worked with the other storyline at all?

Well, it doesn’t work at all, does it? I worked so hard to put a piece behind Herzog! [laughs] I saw that as my big break in life. And there’s never any music behind him. All his scenes are just him. I just wrote and wrote to get some of those bits and it just never happened. I didn’t make the cut on it. [laughs]

The Sun City Girls are also on that soundtrack.

Who are also, I found out recently, they do the Sublime Frequencies label.

Yup, Alan Bishop from Sun City Girls is involved in that label. Have you seen the films they’ve been putting out?

Just recently. I’ve got loads of those records. I loved, and played forever, the Radio Thailand album, which is just somebody skipping a dial in that country. They’re gluey and psychedelic and just odd. I’ve been buying these things, going , These are great!, and then I find out that these Sublime Frequencies guys are related to Sun City Girls. It all came together later on. I’ve seen the Folk Music of the Sahara: Among the Tuareg of Libya film they did. What’s great about them, like the Reverend Charlie Jackson things that Crypt Records put out, or the George Mitchell stuff that’s on Fat Possum, you almost get the impression that this stuff has been recorded accidentally—that somebody is just sitting in the back with one of those [taps Arthur’s Optimus CTR-111 tape recorder], just happens to hit’ record’ and gets this stuff. And those Sublime Frequencies records are like that. And then you start to wonder is that really just a one-off? Is there more stuff like this? Is there another Reverend Charlie Jackson out there who’s still doing this?

I really like the Mississippi Records label, from Portland, Oregon. They’re releasing stuff like gospel records, blues records. You just think, Where does it all come from? Why does it never end? There’s one on the Fat Possum thing, on the George Mitchell, this guy named John Lee Ziegler… And it’s this beautifully recorded, studio-like recorded sound, it’s really precise playing and precise singing, and there’s kids playing. I remember receiving that, and I played it during winter and I could hear the kids playing. I thought, That sounds like spring, sounds like the kids are out. It took me quite a few plays—my brain wasn’t that quick—before I realized the singing was on the record. It’s recorded, they’re in these yards, you know. So it just seems like this accident. Then you think, Was it always like that? Was he always just playing that music?

Some of the songs on A & E have an almost lullaby quality to them, especially ‘Don’t Hold Me Close’ and ‘Goodnight, Goodnight.’ Is this from being a father now, having a family now?

Maybe, but also cuz it’s really simple. That’s always been there: simple music. But also that’s to do with that idea of writing an album about a family. I didn’t write about my family, I wrote about a family. I don’t know if ‘Don’t Hold Me Close,’ that’s the one I sing with Rachel Korine, Harmony’s wife… her voice just fitted that. It made real sense. It was meant to be that Emmylou Harris kind of thing. It was meant to be sung as a girl. I ended up singing it because I didn’t have any idea who should sing it. I thought maybe Cat Power, but it didn’t seem like there was any sense in having a single song with Cat Power on the record, if she’d even say Yes. So I sang it, and then it made no sense, because it was meant to be sung from the perspective of a girl. And then I started doing work with Harmony. And Rachel plays Little Red Riding Hood in Mister Lonely—she sings the John Jacob Niles track in the middle of that film—so she came in and sang the duet and, suddenly, even that worked. That was the last thing we did with that record.

Once again, the Korines to the rescue.

Yeah. I am deeply deeply in their debt. [laughs]

If you don’t play music at home… Do you listen to music a lot?

Yeah. Sometimes moreso. Sometimes it’s nice not to. It’s always going on though, isn’t it? [musing] We’ve got a lot of music in our area. I live in a part of London that is predominantly people from Bangladesh. So we hear music out of the shops, that beautiful, really high-end music, so. It’s good. We’ve got music in the house. I don’t listen to anything on the headphones. Never. I don’t get on with headphones.

When did you find music? When did you become conscious of it being something you wanted to have around you as much as possible? Or, that it was a friend? A comfort?

Dunno. We didn’t have any money when we were kids. We had very limited, a very limited amount of music in the house. Maybe probably about six albums. It was just my mum, my brothers. But we had no music there. I remember having a Seekers record. Do you know the Seekers? It’s actually a good record.

Were they a surf band?

No, I think they’re maybe Australian. And they surf in a kind… Well, surf without taking your jumper off. [laughs] Then my brother brought the Sex Pistols album around 77, The Clash, a few records like that. Then when I was about 14 I found Raw Power and that was the big thing for me. At that time, the chemist used to sell records, and… My whole life came together at that moment! I’m buying the Stooges from the pharmacy. [laughs] And there it was, like a roadmap. I fell in love with Iggy on that sleeve. I had no idea what it was, except it was alien. It looked like nothing else. I liked the silver pants, the wildcat on the back. And I bought that record.

At that time, saying ‘Iggy Pop ‘to people was almost like saying ‘Bo Diddley,’ nobody even related it to music, it’s like, ‘What’s that?’ That was when it kind of all fell into place. After that, that’s all I had: Stooges albums and Iggy albums.

Then I kind of moved in with Natty, the drummer for Spacemen, who had taped a lot of the stuff from [Lexie Korner] who had a radio show… So he had a lot of blues stuff. I heard the Staple Singers for the first time on one of his cassettes.

That’s some of the best music there is, the Staple Singers. All of it! From the beginning of their career to the end, through five decades, from the church to freedom songs to soul to ‘70s R & B…

Pops Staples has got such a beautiful guitar sound and such a beautiful voice, you know? Washington Phillips does a track called ‘What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?’ What he’s saying that in this song, it’s almost like he’s having a look. He’s taking a peek inside, and letting us all know. And I think Pop Staples is a bit like that. It’s almost like he’s privy to this secret information and he’s letting us in on it…

Everybody we knew at that time was kind of getting into music. It was just that kind of time. Natty was a big Beefheart freak as well. I knew Captain Beefheart maybe from Ice Cream for Crow and certain stuff that was actually released around then, but I didn’t know anything about what preceded that. And Natty had those records, he had a copy of Clear Spot. Another guy we knew had every single Sixties compilation, not just the Nuggets double album but all of them, all of the spin-offs from that. We were listening to The Cramps. The Gun Club. Tav Falco was doing a lot of that stuff as well, like Panther Burns, which included Alex Chilton. There was a loose link between all of that, and it all kind of dropped into our world. We were from a small town so everything was about making your own entertainment, or finding it. [smiling] That’s just what you do.

Why does music feel so good?

It because it’s so relevant, and it’s related to you alone. There’s a really beautiful moment when you first hear a piece of music that really moves you. You can get close to that feeling when you can turn somebody else onto that piece of music and they feel it. You can say ‘Listen to this,’ and… There’s a Duke Ellington line that says there’s only two kinds of music: good music and bad music. But I don’t think that’s true, I think there’s two types of music: the music you like, and the music you dislike. And it can be dreadful but it could be relative to your life, it could be some piece of music that happens to coincide with something else specific or memorable. It’s like that lyric thing: You can say, What’s that song about? It’s doesn’t matter. I say this in every single interview: when you hear Ray Charles singing ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You,’ I don’t know if there’s a person on the planet who goes, Who can’t Ray stop loving? Because you relate that to your life and the people you can’t stop loving, the objects, the focus of your love. It’s specific.

There’s the Iggy lyric “I’m a streetwalkin cheetah, a heart full of napalm” on Raw Power. Apparently that’s about Vietnam. And I can’t think I’ve ever for the life of me ever listened to it and thought, This is about Vietnam. It’s about words that relate to me. How could it possibly be about Vietnam to me? It’s not even about war to me. It’s about music, it’s about words, and the words are irrelevant but hugely relevant. That’s what music is…There’s a book by Oliver Sachs called Musicophilia. It starts kind of weird, you’re like, Ah I’m not gonna read this, but then it’s really beautifully written, and it’s all about anecdotal things to do with music and the brain. Apparently if you take an MRI scan of somebody who’s involved in music, or is a musician, the two parts of the hemispheres are joined. And if you work in that line of business, you can say, This person is a musician. This happens apparently only with musicians. Not in any other form of art, not painters nor novelists or whatever does this happen. With music, there’s some weird kind of… It’s something intangible, isn’t it?

Categories: Arthur No. 30 (July 2008), Jay Babcock, Stacy Kranitz | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s