Science Friction Burns My Fingers
“I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death…to enlist the confidences of madmen.”-J.G. Ballard
In my attempt to slim down a record collection that, in my opinion, grew to a ludicrous size over the past 50 years, there are some decisions that have been relatively easy to make and some much more difficult as to what to get rid of and what to keep. Yes, in getting rid of anything, it is good to contemplate if the thing in question brings joy…but there is also always the sneaky wonderment of how my tastes could change over the years and how holding on to a record might prove beneficial.
And then there are the trusted friends, fellow collectors, who would argue getting rid of a particular record would be a shock to the collection and an overall bad idea.
Which brings me to English Settlement, a record by the band XTC.
XTC was an English band that came up during the new wave and punk movements of the late 70s whose smart take on classic psychedelic pop built a sound around what I might term intellectual melody-driven Rock ‘n’ Roll. My friend Donna Olpe-Leiberman first hipped me XTC in the early years of high school, on a mixed tape where she strategically placed their song Science Friction as the kick-into-gear energy number right after the sublime Science Fiction/Double Feature (the opener from The Rocky Horror Picture Show). I loved the track and started searching for more, reading about them in my brother’s Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock…talking to Billy behind the counter of Revolver Records on Clement Street about what to listen to next.
And the XTC section of my collection started growing. First with Wax Works, a compilation of early singles that featured Science Friction, to Black Sea, which has one of my favorite XTC numbers, Respectable Street, to Drums and Wires (that included Making Plans With Nigel) and eventually to English Settlement which at the time was one of their newer records. Anything I could find to read about English Settlement heralded it as a classic…XTC fully developed in any-and-every-way you could have asked for. And I bought the record…with my allowance money…and threw it on the turntable with anticipation as I looked over the alley behind my house from my bedroom window, waiting for the first track to start.
And then it happened: the first track…the next…the next…completely underwhelmed me (this is where I am going to lose several of you, I am sure). Yes…the second track…Ball and Chain…has a great start…killer verse….but then the chorus hits and it just loses me in the evolved pop-song structure they had created. The following song, Senses Working Overtime, while being my favorite song on the record, has a Police-feel to it that just doesn’t hit the mark. And then the rest of the record just seems to always fade away as soon as the needle winds down to the center.
And for over 35 years I have wondered if there is something I had not heard in that record yet…something that would trigger love and joy. That record has moved with my collection from SF to UC Berkeley (where I lived in two places) to Los Angeles (another 2) back to SF (2 more moves there) and finally to San Anselmo. The only time I listen to it is when contemplating whether I should keep it…and I always came to the same conclusion that I should put it away for another day. Not this time.
Over the weekend I pulled out a bunch of records that I had not listened to in years…including English Settlement. And with all the affection to XTC, I made the decision to finally part ways. It has taken me decades…but I got there. And no one…NO ONE…can accuse me of making a snap judgement here, even though there will be some fellow record collector shmoes who cast a damnation on my soul because of it. For yes, unfortunates like me are defined by their collection, and the choices we make are always big. And I can accept that burden…and move on.
This newsletter is dedicated to my wife, Barbara, who I got to marry 12 years ago today.
“Wolf House represented the author’s ambition and success, but the Sonoma County mansion burned to the ground before he could move in. It was an emotional loss he never recovered from.” My Dad and I used to go to The Wolf House together, him knowing my love for Jack London. There was a film on repeat in the gift shop there, taken days before his death, with subtitles saying that he had died soon after its filming of a disease (the name of which escapes me). My Dad took one look at London and said out loud, “There is no way he looked like that (so healthy) so shortly before his death if he was that sick.” Now we know it was the pills and the drinking that killed him, or at least now we feel ok with saying it out loud. This is a great article that I missed when it first came out.
Glastonbury is ON!
Some of the greatest art of our day comes from children’s picture books. Chris Van Allsburg. Barry Moser. Lisa Brown. Ed Emberley. Tomi Ungerer. Bagram Ibatoulline. Maira Kalman. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. Daniel Pinkwater (happy birthday!)…soo many more. It is always great to see the up-and-comers!
The Palabra Archive features readings and interviews with hispanic writers and poets and has just made available a slew of incredible recordings including an incredible interview with Jorge Luis Borges (Mike—he talks about Don Quixote here). Great stuff.
By: Marianne Moore
I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base—
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and
school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.