Thirty-One Love Songs
To celebrate the upcoming collected stories concert series curated by David Lang at Carnegie Hall (April 22-29), we’ll be posting pieces from past issues of the Believer that tie into with the themes of each show. The third concert in collected stories is Love/Loss, featuring The Uncluded (Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson), Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon, Iarla Ó Lionáird, and Nadia Sirota, for which we’re posting Rick Moody’s essay on 69 Love Songs (from the May 2003 issue of the Believer).
REDACTING THE MAGNETIC FIELDS’S 69 LOVE SONGS UNTIL THEY SPEAK FULLY AND PERSONALLY TO THE EAR OF THE BEHOLDER
DISCUSSED: Guys Who Winnow the White Album, Neil Young, The Art of Courtly Love, Trademark Pauses, Philadelphia, Singing Homeless Guys, Gilbert and Sullivan, The Human League
It’s the fate of the good work to belong to the public. It’s the fate of the masterpiece to be bent out of shape, to be reimagined, remodeled by its audience. It’s the fate of popular art to be scoured for clues, understood only in part or misunderstood, and this can’t be controlled by the hardworking artist who came up with the work in the first place. The way a book or record or painting or movie thrives in the face of this barrage of refractions indicates its long-term durability. Those endless new translations of The Odyssey and The Divine Comedy, for example. Or what about the film version of The Virgin Suicides,or The Hours?“The Star-Spangled Banner,” wrenched out of its casing by Jimi Hendrix. Joni Mitchell singing Mingus. If something works, it can stand a little misuse.
What about all those guys, and they are mainly guys, who have sat around winnowing The White Album down to a single disc? Well, first you get rid of “Revolution 9,” because it’s too long and too abstract, and then you get rid of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” despite the fact that one admires McCartney more as one grows older; out with “Bungalow Bill,” out with “Honey Pie,” “Martha My Dear,” because it’s about a dog, etc. Before long, you are left with a record that has on it “Dear Prudence,” “Julia,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Helter Skelter,” “Birthday,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey),” “Cry Baby Cry,” “Yer Blues,” and so forth. In short, you’ve got an unbelievably great rock and roll album. Does it do the Beatlesa disservice? On the contrary. It indicates the bounty of material from which to choose. This is how some people pass an afternoon.