The first time I listened to Get Up With It, an electric era double-LP from Miles Davis, (I’ve written about the record before, so sorry being redundant), I couldn’t get through the first track. “He Loved Him Madly,” which was written as a meditation on the life of Duke Ellington, was over 30 full minutes of ambient sound and icy guitar notes, scattershot snare rolls arbitrarily placed throughout till an eventual, albeit muted, stride enters well beyond the track’s halfway point. I picked up the CD because it was Miles Davis and it was cheaply priced, ignorant to this phase of the artist’s evolution and expecting something other than what I was hearing. I grew bored and I pulled the CD out of my car stereo, annoyed at the purchase.
But, as the story goes, if something you’re exploring doesn’t resonate right away, you try again. And, if you’re compelled to do so, you try some more. It’s probably not a surprise to say that Get Up With It eventually became one of my all-time favorite records and I spent a healthy portion of time with it, learning to appreciate its subtleties as well as its more abrasive moments. “Rated X” is a contained anxiety attack. The emotional state of the artist is bare and as honest as we all hope our interactions are with the people we know, love, or trust. It’s the sort of truth that you hope to find in any form of art.
We forget sometimes, especially in this reality of media plentitude, to stop for a second and listen. Or watch. Or absorb. Even the simple act of chewing before you swallow seems like a lot to ask of us in this day and age. Immediate gratification is the goal. If whatever you’re devoting your dwindling attention span to doesn’t excite every sensory receptor in the space of five seconds, you’re likely to focus on something else. These are not new observations, but they’re applicable to my relationship with The Fall’s music.
Before Mark E. Smith passed away earlier this year, I’d finally begun to understand and appreciate what he was doing. It took 11 years of occasional listening and it’s because, at some point, I’d made the mistake of making up my mind and deciding that one uneven live CD could sum up a band as prolific and varied as The Fall were. I won’t go into a lesson about how sticking to one’s convictions can limit experience or perspective, (because honestly some things necessitate being treated with an unmoving yes or no), but my stubbornness did me no favors in this case.
And, I’ll admit to some laziness as well. Coming at a band like The Fall so late in the game, it’s an overwhelming discography and history to digest, especially when you consider the band’s numerous line-ups.
So, I’ve been slowing acquiring Fall LPs for the last year or so, beginning with The Fall’s second release, Dragnet. A friend of mine burned a copy of 1996’s The Light User Syndrome for me some years ago, and I’ve been reacquainting myself with it. A posthumous convert or poseur, I’m reconciling with failing to recognize the importance of a sea change level band. Paying penance in the name of the hip priest.
Letters From A Tapehead