Thursday, January 9, 2014

Moses, Come Back!

So I've got this fairly old iPod that I just can't seem to get rid of. We silly, mortal humans, huh? So attached to our gadgets and devices.

I got it as a gift from my lovely wife in 2006 (which is perhaps a big reason I don’t want to part with it) and it just feels…wrong to part with it. It’s the iPod video, the first model that had the vid player, I think, and it holds 30 gigabytes of music and stuff. I’ve got thousands of songs on there and even though it won’t even hold a charge anymore, it still works groovy when I plug it into the car and run it through the Bluetooth. So I’m keeping it. At least until it dies.

Not long after I got this lil gem I started making playlists, just for the hey of it. This was before Scott and I pretty much simultaneously rediscovered the magic of the album as a whole body of work (thanks in large part to this book) and, well, I like assembling lists. Y’know, about trivial stuff like music and movies and sports. Never about pertinent life issues. I mean, that would be crazy, right?

So some of these lists are titled for a special occasion (“Thanksgiving Mix 2008,” “Vacation Mix 2009” and such) and some are categorized by the date I made them. The first one I made is thusly called, very simply, "2-26-06." And today I thought, “Gee whiz, I’d like to listen to this.”

(Yes. When I think to myself I actually sound a little like Lumpy Rutherford.)

The list is somewhat scattershot without much of a focus to it, but it’s got a buncha songs I really like and at the time hadn’t heard for quite awhile. Like Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and Bob Mould’s “The Last Night” and Freedy Johnston’s “Bad Reputation” and XTC’s “The Mayor of Simpleton.” To name just a few.

So I’m listening today to this 17-song list made nearly eight years ago and I get excited, realizing the next song is a great one I haven’t heard for long time. Patty Griffin’s “Moses.” So now I am driving in the car and giddy at the song about to come on.

Only it doesn’t. “The Mayor of Simpleton” does instead (another great song, of course, but I wanted to hear Patti!). So I check to make sure it’s not on shuffle. It’s not. I check to make sure I didn’t accidently advance the next song along. I didn’t. Then I hit the “Songs” button on the dashboard to see the entire 17-song list.

And it shows me a 16-song list. One of the songs—Patti Griffin’s “Moses”—is gone. It was there, saved to a list for nearly eight years, and now it’s gone.

What the WHAT???

This can happen? Really? I’ve had this playlist for nearly 8 years on the same iPod. I’ve never known iPods to self-edit or change, have you? How in the name of all that is holy can a list saved to an iPod with 17 songs suddenly become a list with 16 songs? How? HOW?????

Anyway I’d like to know.

But in the meantime here’s the song I wanted to hear today. Because it’s such a wonderful song.

It’s a fascinating little track, so raw and exposed it sounds like a demo. And yet at the same time is very clearly a finished piece, something whole and complete.

Here’s what kills me—this is how Patti started her whole wonderful career. This is the very first song on her very first album in 1996, Living With Ghosts. It’s a pretty audacious way to begin a career, with a deeply pained plea for empathy and nothing more than a cold, bony guitar line to support you.

Yet listen to the rough beauty at work here. Listen to the way she bounces between thoughts that are straight out allegory (“I need Moses, to cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain”) and then become highly, almost obliquely personal (“I’m just this tragic figure in the corner over here, with an empty apartment and a best friend who is a queer”). Patti is so alone on this track, with a cold echo that makes it sound like she could be the last person on earth. Even as she bends in the slightest touch of morbid humor among the desolation.

Every time I see him he smiles
And tells me how well he’s walking these miles
But he never ever asks a single thing about me
If I die, he’d hear about it eventually

Patti sings “Moses” with a full-on confessional urgency, messing with the meter of each line as if the words are coming to her as she sings them. And she’s even able to show off her estimable range as she hits a pretty crazy height with “I need Moses!” on the second chorus. What a way to introduce yourself to the public.

So. I would never erase you, Patti. Chalk it up to a technological glitch. Or an iPod slowly dying. Or, I suppose, one of the first subtle hints that our devices are in fact readying themselves to conquer we silly, mortal humans.

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