Confessions of a Record Collector: I – Where it began

In High Fidelity, the protagonist question is what came first – the music or the misery?

That’s not exactly my question.

My question was where did the interest in music come from?

Did people give me records because I was interested in music?

Or did I become interested in music because people passed off records to me?

I think my interest in music predated having records.

It was something that was always there.

Not just on the alarm clock radio that woke my parents every morning.

It was on their stereo.

It was the jingles on TV.

It was just everywhere.

I couldn’t begin to say what the first song is that I can remember, but it may be this:

I think if I had to try and determine my reaction to it, I was both fascinated and traumatized by it.

Fascinated by it because it was catchy enough that my ears perked up when I heard it and I tried to sing the chorus.

Traumatized because I knew Freda was locked in some grave uncertainty, in the darkness of a lonely room, hoping for a resolution to something I could not comprehend.

Even to this day, I have no idea what transpired in that song.

Lamont Dozier, one of the writers, says it is about two newlyweds working out their differences.

But ‘love me like you tried before’ hints at sexual dysfunction.

None of that would have registered with me then.

It was just something that sounded good, and yet urgent.

I felt for Freda.

I wanted her to be okay.

So I was invested in her well-being, and in the song.

But I also noted that, at a certain point, I didn’t hear that song much anymore.

And that is probably part of what started my interest in records.

Because at some point, it was probably explained to me that songs are only on the radio so long as they are a hit.

When they drop down the charts, they all but disappear.

Well, at the time they seemed to.

And so I learned a valuable lesson.

If you wanted to be able to hear a song on demand, you had to somehow own a copy of it.

And I think that realization planted the seed for collecting records.

I just needed a way to do that as a child.

Fortunately, there were people who would help me get started.

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple’s first album in eight years, feels pent up.

You can hear it in the chorus of the title track.

You can hear it in Shameika’s buoyant beat and whiplash lyrics that reach back to her childhood to work out the bullying she encountered at school.

And you can hear it in the stories she tells – hers and those of others – that have shaped the #MeToo movement.

That said, Fetch the Bolt Cutters couldn’t feel more of the moment.

An album articulating societal pandemics for our pandemic times recorded entirely at home with little embellishments that are the equivalent of your cat jumping into frame during a Zoom meeting.

In that way, it is a bracing work, and one that COVD-19 has made it possible to really spend time with, having shut down society in so many ways.

Even so, I suspect I’d be sitting with it quite a bit under any circumstances.

Although Fetch the Bolt Cutters plays, at times, like a catharsis, it is surprisingly bouncy and energetic.

In an interview with Vulture, Apple noted that walking and hiking have been constants in her life, not just for rumination but also for her craft.

And you can really hear that here.

Songs wind like mountain paths.

It’s all somewhat bumptious, but once you find your footing, the album is forgiving, in part because her melodic sense is still strong.

Listen close enough and you can still hear echoes of early work like Shadowboxer, a song that suggested she could be a torch singer for our times.

But that torch is being wielded here in a different way.

Apple is shining a light on lovers real and imaginary, the ways we hold ourselves – and others – back, and the way that men pit women against each other, or just destroy them through manipulation and violence.

It should feel claustrophobic, but it isn’t.

In part because the music is so kinetic, so elastic, so restless.

But also because Apple sounds like she is in a good place after troubled times.

Every song, every line, feels like hard-won wisdom.

A testimony of survival.

All of it suffused with a sense of adventure and playfulness.

That comes through in the last song, when she not only shrugs off an error but announces she moves not to prove anything but just for the sheer joy that she can move.

It’s a notice that she is living on her terms, something that comes through in every note and word.

In that way, it feels healing, like a balm for all of us who are cut off, shut away, trying not to get sick in a world that is very, very sick.

Each rollicking, wordy song, as evocative in some ways of Scott Walker’s lyric-driven approach to music as it is to Laura Nyro’s fearless refusal to hold fast to conventional song form, acts very much like a set of bolt cutters, in that it has the potential to liberate you from your situation if you listen long enough.

And I’ve listened long enough that it feels like the year’s best album.

 

Scott Walker – The Plague

The plague Walker is referencing is the plague of desire.

Of wanting and needing.

But in these times, it is hard not to hear ‘every day I’ve got to fight the plague’ as summarizing our lives now.

Oddly relegated to a b-side back in the day, the song is a stunning what if, suggesting Walker could have pursued a heavier, almost rock, sound slightly in keeping with his contemporaries.

And yet, it does point the way to something like Cue, which appears to be about a pandemic, and is far, far more bleak, and bleakly funny, than The Plague.

If you are ever sourcing music for a horror film, you could do worse than to incorporate this at a key moment…