I’ve been listening to nothing but singles all day.
I’ve been going on about singles in my mailing list on and off for some months. Singles have informed my thinking about certain types of comic for ages, and they’re going to be a big part of the intent behind a new monthly project I’ll be launching next year.
Complete experiences in three minutes, that you can replay again and again.
Listening to “500” by Lush at the moment. That big, plangent guitar with a hint of mythic echo on it, picking through the central riff, and then Miki Berenyi (and all great pop is sung by women like Miki Berenyi) opening up one of the greatest lines of the last twenty years, Emma Anderson’s perfect-pop apotheosis: “Shake baby shake/you know I can fit you in my arms.”
The singles mix I have on right now goes from there to “Maps,” a song that I spent the better part of a week obsessed with. I do this. Writer’s disease: if something affects you, you spend an obscene amount of time picking it apart to find out how it achieved the effect and whether it can be adapted and replicated. I did that the other week with Johnny Boy’s “You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve.” To get near that faux-Phil Spector sound, you’d have to be out on a city street at night, and there’d have to be something like the theatre’s Greek Chorus in the background. Pixies’ “Hey”: “And the whores like a choir…”
But “Maps”: “Wait. They don’t love you like I love you.” If that doesn’t knock you flat, you’re already dead.
I always loved Lauren Laverne’s voice. She does the vocals on Mint Royale’s “Don’t Falter.” Please. Stay with me. And never miss a chance to kiss me.
These are the things that get past your forebrain and all your filters and reach into your chest. Like the first time you hear the Polyphonic Spree’s “Soldier Girl,” or Sigur Ros’ “Svefn-G-Englar.” That the majority of the words are gibberish, or, in Sigur Ros’ case, somewhere between Icelandic and a language the singer made up, doesn’t matter a bit. There’s always that sound and that sharp little line hiding inside it, like a razor in a chocolate.
In this sort of mode, there’s two quotes that tend to loiter in my head. Nik Cohn on rock’n’roll, lauding what was for him the indispensable aspect that made it Great: “the glorious burst of incoherent noise.” Awopbopaloobop. And Phil Elliott, talking about his work: “I just want to make comics that strum at the heartstrings.”
After a while, I start typing in rhythm. Oasis’ “She’s Electric” is much reviled as their “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” but I’m fond of it. It’s the kitchen-sink, strange-domestic version of what Kieron Gillen called their “triumphalism”: it’s the sound of having the best girlfriend in the world. I had a girlfriend who I’d go to a lot of gigs with — a dancer and singer, red-headed Irish with a soprano show voice and a body that showgirls spend small fortunes on replicating — and she once told me that after a while I start kissing in time with the music. I can’t hold a note to save my life — I once lived with another singer, who admitted she’d rather smother me than hear me even hum bars while I worked — but my head locks on to a beat like a missile. Grant Morrison once described my stuff as “very musical and percussive.” My dad was a drummer, in his youth. One night in the early Sixties, he was approached by two Liverpudlians who said they needed a drummer, and they might have some gigs in Germany… he told me this not long before he died, and I remember him sitting over his cup of tea, staring into space: “I swear it was them. I can’t think about it too much, though.”
I just switched cadences. The Pixies’ “Levitate Me,” the song I intend to have played at my funeral. My dad had some thing by Jon Anderson played at his funeral. Jon Anderson’s voice hurts my head. I wanted my dad to get out of his coffin so I could smack him, but I realised he would have been laughing at me too hard to mind. So that was okay. So I sat there running the conversation we would have had in my head, trying not to laugh, while my brother and step-brother dissolved into tears. The men in my family tend not to last much past sixty. We run too fast, do too much, stay up too late, shoot around the world and leave blackened bones. It’ll be my turn soon.
You’ll think I’m dead, but I sail away… on a wave of mutilation…
(You know I can fit you in my arms.)
(Written October 2004, previous to the devising and launch of FELL. Â© Warren Ellis 2004, 2006)