Friday, July 9, 2010

Love: Owen Pallett

It is almost my and Mike's one-year anniversary. It has been an amazing year with him. In some ways, the first with any sort of stability--it is good to go to sleep next to someone who has promised to be yours. It is good to know you love the person who sits next to you. Knowing you love and being the object of love lets you play more with the other pieces of your life, it lets you risk.

But it may be possible for us to love the people who don't sit next to us. There's a line in one of the final episodes of Sailor Moon, when Usagi is confronted by Rei, and then by Haruka and Michiru, as to whether or not she already has someone important. Usagi replies tearfully, "I love Mamo-chan...but other people too!" For her there is not one person only to love, or a system of different intensities of love--she can love so many, in the same way, and still love only Mamoru as her future husband.

I think this effusion of love is important to have. And part of what we're trying to do with this magazine, I think, is to show love to our writers--to wish them well on both personal and professional levels. To find the text we love is a common goal of literary magazine editors, but we want also to love the person who worked on, pondered over, and perhaps pained for writing that text. We want to be generous with our love.

So when I say that I love Owen Pallett, I hope that my meaning will be clear.

Mike found Owen Pallett for me. I loved the music immediately--it was exactly the kind of music I had once dreamed of making. As a teenager, I holed myself up for hours building MIDI tracks of original songs. Occasionally I'd write lyrics. The songs were never quite what I wanted, but they weren't so far off either. It wasn't that I was transcribing the orchestral to the digital--I was learning to write for the digital medium, to work within it rather than in spite of it. I built melodies of loops. I did not use the patch for "Violin" if I wanted a violin, but a patch that seemed to more accurately evoke a particular style, quality, voice of violin I heard in my head. I wanted to write a musical at this time. I wanted to be a composer, but I didn't have an instrument. I was modest at clarinet, and could play piano by ear. I could sing. I had a 3/4 size viola that I couldn't figure out the fingerings for. I didn't have enough to go on, and I gave the idea of making music up.

When I heard Owen Pallett, a part of me woke up. It burned. This was what I had wanted to do. Not just the concept, but the implementation. A layering of loops, creating a complicated texture. Unusual, fantastical themes; thick, rambling lyrics. An incredible attention to rhythm, dynamic. Purity of voice, and flexibility of voice. I loved everything about it. I started to want to make a musical again. I felt acutely my desire to make music and my obstacles, the musicianship I would need to regain, re-practice to produce anything near his. The music made me hurt, and want, and need.

Gotta find and kill my shadow self...gotta dig up every secret seashell...
You may have been made for love
But I'm just made

Listening to more, I realized how powerfully that hurt and need was in the music, and not just in me. How powerfully it reached for...something. Everything. How the music bristled with knives. How his voice broke when he screamed.

Owen Pallett himself is likely not in such painful need. But to make an analogy: I know that when Mike writes a story about, say, a suicidal character, that he is not himself that character and is not himself suicidal. (Rookie mistake.) But I do know that he inhabits that character, and that he calls to mind the times he's felt that pain, that need to escape. And he makes himself inhabit that pain. Just as I do, when I write someone who needs a mother, who needs a job, who needs a talent, who needs someone to love them. Writers can divorce themselves from their characters. (I myself have a very good mother.) But usually if they're worth their salt, they're making themselves feel what their characters feel. They're filled with the same need as the character as they work to create it. And I think that this is true of good musicians as well.

If what I have is what you need
I'm never gonna give it to you

And when you expose yourself to a lot of work by a particular artist--just as when you read a lot of work by a particular author--sometimes you feel something more than admiration, more than appreciation, more than enjoyment. You feel for them as much as for their art. You want them to be happy. You want them to eat well. You want them to be safe at night, and when they wake up. You love them. It is a kind of love.

I love Owen Pallett. I will be going to his concert in Tucson in October, and I will feel love for him there, I'm sure. But that's all I will do, all I want to do. I'm not going to storm the stage. I won't be in the front row. I'm not going to write comments on his YouTube videos. I won't write replies to him on Twitter. I don't know his birthday. I keep forgetting where exactly he lives, where he's from (Canada, I'm pretty sure, somewhere). I don't watch all his interviews, and in the ones I've seen I don't play a monologue in my head: He's a genius or What a hottie or How cute or Oh man what if we kissed.

It's not really meant to be any more sort of pretentious or bizarre than somebody singing about, you know--a baby, or--
(gets up to shut the door)
--oh, this door doesn't shut. Than a baby, or a shorty, or, you know, girl, or boy, or whatever people sing their love songs about. It's just meant to--I just kind of, because I wanted to sing the songs from the perspective of the Other singing back to me, I wanted to kind of make him as specific as possible, really give him, you know, almost make him seem like more of a real character than myself in this record.

Owen uses himself, ill-uses himself, in almost every record. He is often explicitly a sort of God to whomever he sings about--a God who sometimes coddles, sometimes abandons, sometimes fights, sometimes eats his creations. A God who eats himself. And when you love someone who partakes of themselves this way, you can't help but worry. You make a wish from the bottom of your heart that their art will gratify and not destroy them, and that life otherwise will treat them well, that they will get whatever they need, that they will prosper. That when the needs they've given their creations manage to overcome them as creators, they will be comforted. Not by you. But by someone who sits next to them.

And that if there is no one sitting next to them, they will feel your warmth for them, and that they will know there's someone listening and asking them to live, to live, to live. Just as they want to. Just as they need.

Who (else) do you love? Do you love?

1 comment:

  1. good work elicits attempts at good work; so, my efforts to respond to Uncanny Valley are as follows:


    black like a hairy fold-up camera tripod you grimace your legs at me with a snatch of a smirk, and are gone

    i apologize to Brahman again for doing you violence in this way; my imagination is entangled in your roots and cannot seem to free itself

    your body fat and palpable as a grape, spiny as a large juicy dark grape and succulent with fangs of tentacles of loneliness, lost in space

    i remember you with wist; wistfully

    you are one black leg less than tree crouching tripods

    present in all things

    Bob M