Essays on music, as Greil Marcus has tried, just might save the personal essay from oblivion. “There is that stick coming down hard on the drum and the foot hitting the kick drum at the same time…”: Marcus takes a book to explicate Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which begins with the rim shot heard around the world, yet “the sound is so rich the song never plays the same way twice.” It’s hard to understand what comes later, drum machines, every time the same, and then no drums at all, according to Rick Moody, writing in the 2010 Believer music issue (July/August), quoting Depeche Mode’s David Gahan: “…were put down for using a drum machine onstage but the worst thing they ever did was to get a drummer.”
Moody’s evaluative argument reprises the attitudinal value of live music played on instruments of personality, instruments that, like humans, vary, depending on the heat, the mugginess, the age and treatment, the locale. Depeche Mode, according to Moody, not so much evolves but matures, against a backdrop of Kraftwerk, whose machines, unlike Brautigan’s, don’t watch over us with loving grace, but with something else, something inhuman, but after surviving all the nihilism “you can’t help, it seems, to begin to express some gratitude. And then the music begins to reflect this gratitude, this human feeling.”
The Believer’s Moody essay is apparently a clip from a longer version to be included in another collection of essays on music, this one to appear later this year from Little, Brown. Looking forward to seeing Rick Moody at Powell’s on Tuesday, August 3.
Meantime, we are left wondering about this, from Moody’s essay: “…or in the case of Mouse on Mars, by affecting a very comical warmth that depends on reggae, bossa nova, surf, tango, and other disgraced and somewhat effusive music.” I hope Moody clarifies this comment somewhere in his book of essays on music – is he saying bossa nova, surf, and tango are disgraced? What about polka? What about Cajun? Slack-key? Slack-key cowboy?
Reading the Moody essay and thinking of drumming was reminded of the “Venus HB” piece on Benny Goodman Today: Recorded Live in Stockholm (London SPB 21, 1970). This is Mozart’s “Turkish March,” arranged by Goodman, played on a Venus drawing pencil (and teeth). On the album, it functions as an intro to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” a drummer’s dissertation.