Listening to Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad

That is, reading it for the sounds

The universe loves a coincidence, so I happened to start reading Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit from the Goon Squad the week Ingram Marshall died, and I stumbled on this in the third chapter:

For years people recommended the book to me, almost always because of a rock’n’roll element, and I would try to explain that sleaze nostalgia is not my thing, and that I’m more interested in refrigerators humming than in the same three chords all over again (I meant and mean that literally, not just as a diss on the straightjacket that verse/chorus/verse songwriting can be). Fortunately the book shifts gears pretty quickly (or at least appears to, or at least adds new gears — I’m only four chapters in). And the author has less than kind words for nostalgia in the process. Though that may be a fake-out.

These moments stuck out from the second chapter:

“He listened for muddiness, the sense of actual musicians playing actual instruments in an actual room.”

“the problem was digitization, which sucked the life out of everything that got smeared through its microscopic mesh”

“Nostalgia was the end—everyone knew that.”

The “he” in the first quote is Bennie Salazar, one of the main characters in Goon Squad. The second and third are from the especially (if you’ve read the book, you know what I mean) omniscient narrator, but reflects Bennie’s perspective, and seemingly that of his mentor, Lou, both of them being music industry figures.

For every Bennie who bemoans the rise of digital technology in modern music (and there are a lot of Bennies in that regard), there was someone decades earlier who bemoaned the rise of amplification (there were a lot of those someones, too). Bennie is trapped in his own perspective.

I’m not particularly a Bruce Springsteen fan — having grown up on Long Island, I suffered from overexposure near the source — but I definitely get his fixation on not being stuck in the past: “It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap.” The line is from “Born to Run,” and it’s directly about leaving behind a town but, like the comically misunderstood “Glory Days” (curse of the chorus, à la Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”), it’s also about uprooting oneself from the past before it’s too late. I think of Springsteen here because that rough and tumble posturing connects with Bennie’s East Coast record label vibe, and because of his own self-proclaimed old-fashioned-ness.

I think there’s a connection between Bennie’s aesthetic anxiety, in the face of modernity, and the way his brain loops frequently back to the past — in what Egan excellently describes in this chapter as a “memory spasm.” I say “I think” because I haven’t finished the book yet. mesostics, bands, tutorials

From the past week

I do this manually each week, collating the tweets I made at (which I think of as my public notebook) that I want to keep track of. For the most part, this means ones I initiated, not ones in which I directly responded to someone. I sometimes tweak them a bit here. Some tweets pop up on sooner than I get around to collating them, so I leave them out of the weekly round-up. It’s usually personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud. They’re here pretty much in chronological order. Looking back at the tweets makes the previous week seem both longer and shorter than it was. The cadence is a way to map how time progressed. The subjects are another map of the same territory.

▰ Detail of an index page from a book called The Miracle of Television (1949)

▰ My main post-pandemic prediction (and this is not an original thought by any means) is there’s gonna be a lot of bands. I think everyone’s kinda got the solo act aced at this point.

▰ Fifth robocall of the day and it’s not even 1:30pm. Either Skynet is happening or the FCC is about to crack down and the robots are making as many calls as they can before the party is over. My money is on Skynet.

▰ A mesostic:

    sErvice to computer
     To teach this word to
the AI that lives in
  my Computer's dictionary

(better in fixed-width font)

▰ Looking forward to episode two of Debris tonight. That’s my gauge of a new weekly TV series: do I find myself looking forward to it, or is it something that shows up as having been recorded and I then give the latest episode a go? So far, one episode in, Debris is the former.

▰ I freely admit that when I started using Scrivener, I was overwhelmed. Funny thing: I started working in it, and finding the tools I needed, and that’s all it took. Now it’s where I do most of my writing, and even some note-taking. The more I use it, the better I use it. The single tool I use the most is the ability to divide a longer piece into subsections that can be worked on independently, and also quickly and easily regrouped with the other subsections around it.

▰ There’s a seaplane overhead, sounding like a didgeridoo with wings

▰ OK

▰ While working, I’ve been listening to John Luther Adams all afternoon, and now I’m not sure what planet I’m on. In a row today: Become Ocean, Become Desert, Become River, Ilimaq, The Place We Began. Been hours since I hit pause, and I feel like I’m just beginning to come up for air. I especially recommend Become River (symphonic), Ilimaq (augmented percussion), and Place We Began (ambient).

▰ Minecraft news you can use

▰ While working this afternoon, I’ve been listening to Jana Winderen non-stop, and now I’ve convinced myself that the next time I go outside the sound of the world will be overwhelming. I need to first re-acclimate to human-scale listening.

▰ When my love
Stands next to your love
I can’t compare love
When it’s not love

It’s not love
It’s not love
Which is my face
Which is a data center
Which is on fire
On fire

▰ Just re-watched the live video of Prince’s guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for, like, the 650th time, thanks to Ethan Hein’s expert dissection (at of another Prince solo (“Kiss”), and still the hair went up on my arms.

▰ “Stars — they’re just like us!” (From a New York Times article on how 75 different artists rode out pandemic lockdown thus far)

▰ About half my email inbox inbox is “Sorry I haven’t been in touch. During the pandemic I’ve gotten very little done.” And half is “Here’s my fifth box set I’ve released in the past 12 months. I think I’m really hitting my stride. Hope you enjoy it.” (My outbox is, in essence, I’ve managed to get everything done except my outbox.)

▰ I’m pretty sure I haven’t had a tweet with 319 likes in less than 8 hours before. That has been weird.

▰ And on that note, have a great weekend. Wear a mask, maybe two. Enjoy YouTube synth tutorials to your heart’s desire. Get fresh air (again, through a mask). Zoom friends. Read something that’s not its own light source. Give yourself and everyone around you a break. See ya Monday.

The Festival’s Metronome

A Q&A with Cake's John McCrea

“We played a show I think in Kansas City with him a long time ago, and the audiences were weirdly friendly with each other. There was a sense of nobody’s making a huge compromise to attend. So that’s something, right? Also, I think that there are musical similarities, but not too many. It’s horrible going to these rock festivals sometimes with the skateboards and the tattoos, and it’s like the same beat for hours and hours and hours. I don’t think that happens at all with a Ben Folds-Cake evening. That’s something I feel strongly about. Whether it’s electronic music or any kind of genre, I just want there to be different beats. My brain sort of shuts down a little bit if it’s duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh the whole time. That’s something a lot of rock bands are guilty of not changing up enough.”

That’s John McCrea of the band Cake in a new interview I did for The question was “For the second summer in a row, Cake is touring with singer-songwriter Ben Folds. How did the idea of co-headlining concerts with him come to be?”

“My brain sort of shuts down a little bit if it’s duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh the whole time.” I enjoyed transcribing that bit.

The version online of the Q&A is slightly expanded from the one in the print edition. (Illustration from the article by Jason Malmberg.)

Listening to Yesterday: Listening to Yesteryear

Time Life keeps it physical

  1. old rock’n’roll hits
  2. a sales pitch on TV

The ad ran during cultural downtime, late in the evening, after the reruns and the news. Time Life was selling one of its many various-artists collections: Classic Love Songs of Rock & Roll, 152 pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s collected on eight CDs. The hosts of the half-hour segment were singers from that period: Bobby Rydell (“Volare”) and Darlene Love (“He’s a Rebel”).

What was of note was how the CDs were being sold, how they were being framed. “You could source the Internet, scour retail stores, or even rummage through your attic and you wouldn’t find all of these songs, but they’re all here,” one sales line went, tempting a testy couch potato to file a class action suit after actually doing a cursory YouTube search. “Why waste your time and money trying to find all these hits yourself? Time Life has done it all for you. Call or order online now,” a similar train of thought went later in the broadcast. The titles of songs, from so long ago, hinted presciently at their present nostalgic future, from the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to Little Caesar and the Romans’ “Those Oldies but Goodies (Remind Me of You).”

The temporal tension in the ad was between what was once fresh and what was now old. “The birth of rock and roll brought us a new sound, new artists,” it went, “and most importantly a new kind of love song.” The message was that the new of today didn’t hold a candle to what was once new: “Easier than downloading, no searching for songs, no trying to remember your favorite artists — take the CDs with you in the car, play them around the house, upload them. Just open the box and enjoy nearly seven hours of the best music.” (The “trying to remember” line seemed either unsavory or spot on, given Time Life’s aging audience.) There was no mention that the CD has as little in common culturally with Motown as does a smartphone streaming service. Perhaps the CD — itself outdated technology, however recently — can also be warmly embraced as an object of nostalgia. Unexpected allegiances are formed in the dustbin of history. Old isn’t necessarily better than new. Old new is better than new new.

This music, we were not so subtly informed, was tied to the physicality of the media on which it first played: “You’ll get all the songs we fell in love to, danced to, heard on the radio, in jukeboxes, and on our own 45s.” This remained the case even if the option to “upload” counted as part of the sales pitch.

That Time I Interviewed Brian Eno in 1990

And John Cale, regarding their Wrong Way Up collaboration


Twenty five years ago I stood on the rooftop of the Diva hotel in San Francisco and interviewed Brian Eno while a photographer did his best to take advantage of the light.

We were there to discuss Wrong Way Up, the album Eno had just released with John Cale of the Velvet Underground. I was on assignment for Down Beat magazine, and the article appeared in the January 1991 issue. I’ve just now uploaded it to, backdating it to the original publication — hence this small note of its (re)appearance.

The record is a lot of fun, but apparently the daggers depicted on the cover were appropriate, as neither Eno nor Cale came away from it with warm feelings. Said Cale, whom I interviewed by phone:

“With Brian, I think what happened is that he would listen to what you said, but he really didn’t have much patience with it. His idea of listening to what you said was eventually, you know, slam the door and come out with a solution. I haven’t figured out yet what Brian’s notion of cooperation, or collaboration, is.”

Read the full piece: “Reconcilable Differences.” If I can track down my tapes of the interviews, I’ll transcribe them and post them, too.