“Dolby’s Rupee’s: Yo La Tengo – ‘It’s Alright (The Way That You Live)’”

My grandma liked dogs. She used to say this thing where for the people who harbored any dislike of those particuar little beggars, there should be demarcated a distinct character flaw. Yet, dogs smell bad, slobber everywhere, and run barking at you when you’re riding by. Ok, I’m trying to be virtuous here…
Indirectly, anyway, she hit on my exact take on Yo La Tengo: the Hoboken, New Jersey trio [1] who are at once a moral body and a brand within themselves, consistently rewarding and ideal. With “It’s Alright (The Way That You Live),” I was especially drawn to it when I noticed the songwriting credits on Wiki, denoting the scoundrel duo of “Reed” and “Cale.” As we know, those are not the little country bumpkins from New Jersey, but rather the founders of indie-rock mammoths The Velvet Underground. “It’s Alright (The Way That You Live)” is a particularly essential listening gem, for the soothing, almost obfuscatory lull in Ira Kaplan’s voice, but more importantly, for the functional way it rewrites the indie rock canon by reinventing our conception of what The Velvet Underground are. Indeed, if you were to pick one song to sum up the band, this wouldn’t be a bad one — in fact it’s almost explicitly, defiantly an epitome of the Velvets rubric, with apparently homosexual-sympathizing lyrics which are punk-MINDED “I don’t care about your ways / Of love and life and walkin’”, set to that lazy, almost aggressively benign chord mode, applying in that way the poppy tenets of Motown to guitar rock and roll. In its Velvets form, obviously, it’s an outtake from the Nico sessions, but let’s remember that youthful bands are anything but infallible in their song selection, and also that a ditty so pure lends less to the sonic rancor plaguing their debut. Given, then, the dichotomous musical brain progeny of Reed (noise, pop), and the early-stage birthing of this here anthem, it’s only natural that “It’s Alright (The Way That You Live)” would be orphaned and heroically rescued. It’s arguably the best choice of cover song of the 1980s, succumbing possibly at large only to Kurt Cobain’s work on the almighty Puppets of Meat.
[1] Importantly, they existed as a quartet for their first album Ride the Tiger with bassist Mike Lewis, about whom spawns the track “Lewis” on the excellent sophomore staple New Wave Hot Dogs. “Lewis” would make it on to the invincible chronicle collection A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs: 1985-2003, but better even than the song is the story behind it, an electrically placid, resigned adieu to a friend.

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