Saturday, July 11, 2009

in the fragile beauty we froze: let go let go let go let go!

The last shall be the first. I wrote this first , but the final album I'm Recommending to you is


Phil Ochs' Rehearsals For Retirement

I came pretty close to writing a 33 1/3 book about it this year (shortlisted, not quite good enough but thanks for trying, story of my life), and I still really want to write a book about this album. (Aside: If you know anyone, if you are a publisher, if you know stuff other than sketchy sleazy publish-yourself opportunities and if you've got anything for me other than worthless, hastily-Googled assvice, please get in touch.)

Anyway, this is about the album. Not my pitiful attempts to make something of myself.

So. Let me talk about this album in the only ways I know how.

By the time he made this album, Ochs had this idea that each song should be a self-contained narrative. Like a movie. The word I"d choose to sum up this album is cinematic. And within that, this album uses different cinematic modes, shifting frenetically between tragedy, comedy, farce, jump cuts, a switch between styles that reminds me of the Nighttown part of Ulysses or early Godard. Songs shift styles between 70s B-comic Western and historic tragedy, between war drama and musical comedy.

It isn't frenetic or schizophrenic, it's a deliberate evocation, an intentional signifying that demonstrates a mastery over different cultural styles. By the time Ochs had made this album, sneering critics had dismissed him as a bipolar alcoholic. It's my project to change the hegemonic narrative of his life, to change the way you think of him, if you think of him at all. Most just dismiss him as an inferior contemporary of Dylan's, a sad sack bipolar alcoholic who couldn't take the switch to electric and killed himself. You are wrong. This blog post will not attempt to address this biographical disservice (that's, uh, what the book was supposed to be about, because the two biographies of Ochs have been pretty lacking; mine would have been both critical and AWESOME). At the time of Rehearsals, Ochs was a multi-movie-a-day filmgoer. I often wonder how living to and through the age of MTV would have affected him and his work and I feel sad all over again that he died so young.

I thought about doing this blog post track by track, lugubriously analyzing each song, but it just doesn't work that way, not today, not on an already tl;dr post on an album that's so important to me, not already risking criticism on something where I just can't deal with it.

Rehearsals is seamless misery and rage, frustration from beginning to end. I could give you a note by note analysis. But I won't. I thought about elliptically writing impressions, but that was a little too precious for a blog post.

In a way I guess it's good I never did get to do the 33 1/3 book because all I can do is stamp my foot and make vague gestures and say, fuck recommendations, I demand that you listen to this album NOW NOW NOW because it's so essential and so passionate and sad and angry and summarizes so perfectly an important time at the brink of American politics and culture, and at the same time, it summarizes a beautiful crisis moment in one man's life. Yet it's not exploitation. It's someone screaming into a void. It's someone screaming into a void and reassembling the echoes, reassembling the reflections, in a desperate and futile attempt to make someone understand - a last-ditch effort.

So, please, I implore you, I beg you, I demand that you listen to Rehearsals for Retirement.

This album has been the constant that's followed my entire adult life. A heavy and beautiful burden. Of course it's underrated. Of course it's forgotten. Of course it's overlooked and underappreciated by sneering rock critics, but I think it's one of the greatest albums ever made.

Therefore, I Recommend it to you.

So, that concludes this already-delayed project (and, thanks for sticking with me, if you did). It was good to get out of my comfort zone and make myself do this (almost) every day after putting it off for a week. And now I will flee back to my comfort zone.

Next week, in a transparent attempt to vaguely cash in on the Bruno craze, I will attempt to Recommend to you 5 Postwar German films.


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