Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The votes are in 

I'm tickled that this little comment of mine (scroll to the second comment on the page, but read Jodi Shapiro's moving story first) made it into the online edition of the Voice's Pazz & Jop issue; I just wish I'd been more clear about what I meant.

Growing up, the only song I knew with my name in it was "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore," which always rubbed me the wrong way. I was never religious, so even as a kid I had a hard time embracing a traditional spiritual song. Over the years, I've become familiar with Joni Mitchell's "Michael From Mountains," which is precious but nice, and Prefab Sprout's "Michael," an unremarkable song on a good album. Madness did "Michael Caine," but that obviously doesn't count. A quick search of AllMusic shows that Suzi Quatro, Red House Painters, and the '60s version of The Highwaymen all had "Michael" songs, but I haven't heard those. Anyone with any MP3 of any of those would make my day by sending them to me.

And while I always get a kick out of the cool Michael reference in the chorus of Steely Dan's "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" and the classic opening line "I like your twisted point of view, Mike" in The Magnetic Fields' "Papa Was A Rodeo," I always wanted a Mike or Michael song I could call my own. I'm not sure why it was the slightest bit important to me, but hey, all other things being equal, why wouldn't anyone want that? The Franz song is a great track from a great album, and the Michael in question is the object of the protagonist's heteroflexible desires. It's got a good beat, you can dance to it, and it's a politically progressive statement. A truly cool 21st century rock moment.

No big Pazz & Jop surprises, but as always, it's riveting reading for the musically obsessed. I haven't read the long essays yet, but I've gone through most of the comments and peeped the top tens of many of the critics. I wish Annie's album placed higher than a tie for #90, but that was a record very few people got their hands on. She did score a bit of a coup with the #31 and #32 singles of the year, "Chewing Gum" and "Heartbeat." I, of course, had to be different and vote for "Me Plus One," and was joined by only Rodrigo Perez on that score. I was one of 11 people who had the courage of their convictions and put William Shatner in their top 10 albums, and let the record reflect that the nearly-always-right Greil Marcus put Shat's Pulp cover as his #2 single.

As was the case last year, there was an album in my top 10 that none of the other critics (about 700 of them this year) picked: last year it was Rooney, this time out it was Har Mar Superstar. I expect his publicist to seek me out and send a cheese basket or something. And I paid retail for that freakin' CD.

I was one of two people to go for the Pitty single (irresistible pun alert), and the only person to single out the Dan Bern, Northern State featuring Har Mar, and Crayon Rosary tracks. I don't mention all this to commend myself on my originality so much as to point out how fascinated I continue to be by just how much music is out there that nobody—even the people who listen to this stuff for a living—ever get to hear, myself most definitely included. It also highlights the way in which the Pazz & Jop poll is so big that, as Tris McCall noted, "idiosyncratic picks cancel each other out, and you end up with a record of whatever it was that was hyped that year."

True, but we're not all hyped on all the same records. Each of our radar screens has a slightly different field of view. This year's Pazz & Jop results were typical in the sense that they pointed out to me a few things I probably ought to be paying attention to. I've never heard The Drive-By Truckers, and they get votes every year. So, note to self about checking them out. I need to hear M.I.A. I'm a little curious about Animal Collective. And my benign neglect of the nouveau alt-folk scene—Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, all that—has probably been at my own peril.

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