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“This Holiday Season: ARE YOU THE DEACON??!!?!?”

Anybody who’s memorized every “This is Sportscenter” commercial (and why wouldn’t you) knows what the “deacon” [1] is: that person in the work place or social setting who quells the good time like an ice cube down the back. All conversation ceases around him or her, all parties uncomfortable, fearful of letting their true selves on, as if they were at confession.
I personally feel like I have to deal with these people all the time in my everyday life: the overactive type, the obsessive type, the watch-everything-you-do-and-nitpick-it type. With some research into music then, we find that this phenomenon trickles into the creative, recording and production processes, and that sometimes a band can really gain an addition by subtraction by cutting out an unneeded vessel from the equation. Conversely, as I’m sure you know, Meg White made Jack White a better musician and all she really did was catatonically hit the drums like a metronome (he** maybe all the songs were about her).
But anyway, my first exhibit here, and most important, and it is a huge one, is The Doors and their final effort as a band L.A. Woman. Up until this album, they had been working with producer Paul A. Rothchild, basically an out-of-the-closet a**hole [2] who would say things in interviews to “make (The Doors) angry enough to do something good” [3] and was elsewhere described as a “perfectionist” [3]. Robby Krieger in 1994 then put it better than pretty much anybody else could have, when he said of Rothchild’s departure “‘Rothchild was gone, which is one reason why we had so much fun. The warden was gone’” [4].
Don’t watch the douche bag Doors movie with Val Kilmer. Don’t stare at clay sculptures of Jim Morrison’s co**. For christ’s sake, just listen to L.A. Woman.
Or better yet, let me paint you a picture. This whole summer that album is glued into whatever CD player I was around, and yes I said the recordings were DIGITAL and they even came with a complimentary slab of Velveeta cheese, but anyway one of my friends started cracking up over “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” [4]. That’s what he was doing — he was just laughing because it was funny. He wasn’t posturing based on an essay on Pitchfork, he wasn’t nervously recounting a time his uncle smelled Jim Morrison’s pi**, he was just enjoying the music. This is the type of thing that can happen when you shred extraneous shackles and just let ‘er rip, but as we all know, it takes courage to do this. It involves peering into the unknown. Later that summer, on our way into a festival in the parking, the attendant lady of probably 40 or so complimented “Riders on the Storm” which was probably pumping out of a car on a mix tape or something. Another time I put “L’America” on a mix tape of “classic rock album tracks” and that went over pretty well on Facebook. It’s a compelling, demented song. The entire album of L.A. Woman is produced by Bruce Botnick, who up until said project had simply been one of Paul A. Rothchild’s assistant sound engineers.
The other example of this phenomenon, and in which possibly the results are even more potent, is Enon, the progeny of ex-Brainiac guitarist John Schmersal. Listening to the albums retaining a certain band member, Believo! and On Hold, you can just FEEL the palpable extent to which every little turn, every little chorus, is labored, until they signed on Toko Yasuda [5] for the gargantuan, show-stopping benchmark of indie pop that is Hocus Pocus, and then the awe-inspiring kinetic continuation of Grass Geysers… Carbon Clouds. Some invincible tracks on these two projects, some sung by the female Yasuda and some by Schmersal, are “Shave,” “The Power of Yawning,” “Spanish Boots,” “Colette” and “Sabina.” I’m telling you people… it’s impossible to put into words how important it is to just shed the deacon and be yourselves — or as John Densmore so eloquently put it, the “warden” [6].

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[1] The S.C. spot is in fact dedicated to Wake Forest’s mascot, the “Demon Deacon.”
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[2] Little known to much of the populace, much of the way you can come out of the closet as being gay, you can also come out of the closet as being an a**hole. Still, many people are afraid to.
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[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.A._Woman.
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[4] This brings up an interesting point about the possibility of artists writing songs ABOUT touring, which from what I’ve heard is almost an inevitability given their brutal schedules (see Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly,” Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page”).
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[5] Actually, it looks like now the only two members of the band are Schmersal and Yasuda, which could certainly fly a pendant for the whole music-via-romance thing that Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth dabbled in. Enon even hail from New York like these two said acts, whereas Brainiac had been based in Dayton, Ohio.
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[6] Tellingly, The Doors’ fine ultimate album L.A. Woman contains the song “Been down So Long” and the lyric “Warden warden warden / Won’t you break your lock and key”. It’s every bit the iconic “blues” that Kilmer’s character mentions in the movie, a fat, aged Morrison strung out on whiskey. There, I guess I shouldn’t rag on Kilmer that much.

 

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