…and I want it now. To paraphrase an MTV slogan of my lost generation. If you are not old enough to remember it, consider yourself carded and you are not old enough to read this.
Available from: Glitterhouse, iTunes, finetunes, musicload
This is a review of the recently self-titled release by Scott Matthew, available as the cruel fates would have it, in Europe alone. So after finagling, and what felt like smuggling an exotic animal through black market channels, I’ve had a taste. Perhaps a bit untypical of your ordinary reviewer I think that I’ve listened to the album for what is surely approaching a full twenty-four hours. In fact while I slumbered it played on an endless loop guiding me like Orpheus searching for Eurydice through the netherworlds. However, I don’t think my experience of the album is unique, and I’m quite sure when faced with it, people will put on their iPods and do the same (especially if some jerk just broke their hearts-especially the jerk who introduced you to his music!). I mean we can carry those things with us everywhere at all times; it is almost socially acceptable and expected that we should tune out, and drop in on our dear friend. Because that silly CD will never be played once, it is as obsolete as a cassette, but strangely no one has told the people who press them. Poor people without high speed internet need them. When I’m walking through New York City I see those tiny little bags that illicit substances come in, which I’m not very familiar with, but see them cast so carelessly onto the sidewalk where kids on their way to school can just spy their bright colors and wonder. Well maybe they don’t, but I do. I think of CD’s when I see them.
So if the world is flattened, if iTunes is the third coming of the messiah, and even Amazon sells downloads, why the second this album was available was I not able to stream it directly into my greedy little ears? I mean if I were in China, Venezuela, or some miraculous version of the Lost Island that since we now know it can move, could probably get within WiFi distance. Damnit! I want it. I won’t even go into how much I hate that soul robbing iTunes which is an incarnation of the Borg, that would take many more pages.
Now I tell you honestly – even if the world went to hell under McBush’s reinstated draft for the hundred year war, I’d not take to the streets and protest, but in the richest nation on earth, surrounded by a horde of zombie consumers who will take any dreck that Starbucks throws its stamp on, damnit, I would, for my music: grab a Molotov cocktail & go all Black Panther on your ass, and you’d think you landed in Jersey City in 1967! Now if that makes me vacuous, or less socially conscious than the rest of you PC-liberals sneering down your nose at me, and calling me a hypocrite – GUILTY.
I don’t want to detract from my purpose, or make this a treatise against the recording industry which is still scratching its ass and head after the new millennia. Which has on numerous occasions and ways found me paying for the same music over and over again, and seemingly still not able to deliver what people (me specifically) actually want. Record industries are in tough times now, I mean they took a guy who ran gas stations and put him in charge of one the largest libraries of great music which is now mortgaged to the hilt and reminds me of the credit crunch in that it is on a steep precipice verging on dragging the whole world down with it. I would think a gas station mogul would understand convenience, wouldn’t you? Yet collectively they are dealing with legacy delivery issues, hubris, and a sense of entitlement. These are the same people who made Britney and boy bands the norm, which dragged their feet on the digital revolution, and gives us DRM – the most undemocratic invention in this free land of ours. Well, not that I’m impervious to the pop trends, but for godsake VARIETY is the spice of life, I feel like I’m at a nursery looking over plants we’ve seen a million times in every front yard praying for a wildflower or a finely cultivated orchid. I’m not like these children growing up today on a steady diet of junk food, and high fructose corn syrup, no I need a healthy balanced buffet, I live in New York where I can eat in thousands of restaurants and my appetite can be sated by any cultural or ethnic variety and a few I can’t imagine.
Scott Matthew’s singular voice, and envious talent, or his considerable skills at songwriting are the things we only come upon once in a lifetime. Like a famous meteor rocketing through the sky, we have but to turn our faces upward and gaze and feel small. For I’m quite sure if we look around at the American Idol playing field now, the prepackaged talent, the karaoke tuned paradigm for an entire industry, we will realize what real talents sounds like. It will be that thing that haunts us, one we return to as we return to our hearts. It is a single phrase that is around every corner, echoing in the back of your head to the point of distraction. He is a delicacy in the buffet of life; Auntie Mame would beg you to eat because most poor suckers are starving to death!
“cause I’m not special but it helped to know that some one thinks I am”
If ever there was a greater lie told, I don’t know what it is. What makes this preoccupy me, is that we have all at one time or another thought just this. There are those who think this daily, some from time to time, and some of us only on the rare occasion. The latter being the luckiest, although for them I think the occasional must be more severe, and more disconcerting. This line is taken from Abandoned, the second track from the album, and currently the one haunting my reverie. Followed closely by this quote from Laziest Lie:
“a pin in the eye of all I hope to be”
A Buñuelean vision if ever I’d had. This reminds me that I want to petition or perhaps beg the Quay Brothers to expertly translate this music into visual form. I could hardly call such a piece of art a “video” but since I’ve already invoked MTV’s birth, and revealed my age – yes I crave something a bit more thoughtful than a YouTube video by a person with a toilet paper fetish. Although I must admit that was theater of the absurd, I want something that no matter how many times I’ve seen it, something else will be revealed. Much like the music itself does. I need a DVD by Sophie Mueller or Chris Cunningham. When the word ‘haunting’ is invoked to describe the style, for in its simplicity, in its lack of excess – no line wasted, no distractions, it is minimalist chic anti-folk music for the masses. I can hardly disagree, but use that word sparingly because surely with all the words, allusions, and metaphors in my head that can easily be at hand it would be a crime. Yet ‘haunting’ invokes something otherworldly, and to me what is most powerful here is that you hear it and you know it, you don’t have to wonder about some complex ethereal context or feel spooky, you know what he is talking about and it is hyper-real.
Less is more. When Scott saunters to the end of a line, like in Surgery, going from a soaring high of ‘its life’ to a long drawn out ‘its love’ back to finish with “It’s life – saving surgery”, and you remember that in the middle of the bookends of life is only love. Our source of the greatest highs and the depressing lows. It is also all the emotions possible betwixt or in-between. In the acoustic version available on this album which is contrasted to the version previously available on the Shortbus soundtrack. In that previous one there is an H.R. Puffenstuff dreamy pop quality, and it is a far cry from the new operating table of modern love, the beating heart, broken hands, and the intense raw power that makes one almost want to look away like at the time to operate in some episode of ER, but you must watch. In all its acoustic glory, it almost seems gory. Then in comes the healing hands, the life saving surgery – we are resuscitated, to live and love again.
“This legacy I leave
of wonder, lust, deceit”
When he takes up the mantle of protest song, one shouldn’t expect something preachy, or full of those antiquated hippie ideals, but a soul searching siren that will make you tingle. The piano starts this off like little tin soldiers marching in, and then the curtain rises, and we are treated to a solicitous exposé that surely lays bare almost the entire last decade and sums it up in 3 and ½ minutes. See, I’m not so apathetic, I expect the arts to lead the way in humanity, to illuminate and inform, to question, to give rise to the change that we now see taking seed all around us. I prefer not to have it proscribed to me by the news channels or the Madison Avenue, buy something to help the people in Africa, because ‘all you know how to do is consume’ jaded soul – color me (bo)red. No I trust that through the arts we can and will be redeemed, we will find the strength to make this a world of our doing, and finally become the change we wish to see, as Gandhi has bade us to do.
Let me not make the most of the sadder ditties, but also laud the upbeat, for this is an album given its subject matter – that does not depress me in the least, but actually makes me believe in love more than ever. Part of me hopes that Scott has his heartbroken constantly, as cruel as that may seem, because very few can be as poetic about it. If he can make something beautiful of it, how can we the audience not find redemption for our past sins. Yet this imp that appears on stage, and charms the crowd in the guise of a balladeer, a troubadour for the ages, slightly updated for the current paradigm. Then he sings and tears well up in my eyes and if I look around I see others similarly afflicted, gazing through pools of our own misery to understand that life is the endless ebb and flow. That to stop and remember sometimes through bittersweet renderings is human. It is the labor of the poet, and the ideal of us all, to remember lovingly that which makes our heart soar and swoon. To remember sweetly, that which may have been once bitter.
Immediately following Abandoned on the album is ‘prescription’ which one could interpret in so many ways these days, in this Valley of the Dolls, when our modern scientists and psychologist think that the Pharmaceutical industry has our best interests or health at heart. They want us to be depressed with no way out except at the bottom of one of their non-generic products. They want pandemics, misery in the masses, for they have the key. The sleeping pill is a singular icon all by itself that needs no introduction or interpretation. Both feared and horded – so much so I hide my scrips when friends come to visit, because god knows they are as addictive as cookie dough in ice cream. I wouldn’t blame my friends, no, I’d feel foolish for leaving them where children could find them and getting the geriatric easy twist off caps for when I’m fiending. Furthermore one could easily compare them to the Military complex, they need war in order to stay in business, the Pharmaceutical industry needs your depression.
For songs that renew the soul there is Amputee, Upside Down and Little Bird, and what others may not qualify – Ballad Dear. Only someone with great talent can take one of the most wretched sites, a person missing a limb, asymmetrical, uncomely and make it an allusion to love. It reminds me of the poem I wrote about the phantom limb of my ex-lovers. I felt them always, even when they weren’t there and how it taunted me. Of course Mr. Matthew has much more talent than I can meagerly confess to. He also happens to be hitting a mark that is another contemporary icon. As more return from the marvel of new and improved battlefield medical treatments that are saving more troops, even if they have to leave a limb on the battlefield. With Ballad Dear one could almost call it a love song to self. While it doesn’t easily fit into a simple analysis, and it is most certainly about someone else besides the author, there is something so alluring about the “sweeter terrain” that I found myself wanting to visit it. It is a big hug of a song, the type you get from a friend that reminds you this will pass, halving your burden by sharing it, as we all do.
Yet, I can hardly be called the arbiter of his music as it seems everyone will have memories and ideas they want to associate with it. You will make of it what you will, it seems well suited to every heart or imaginable landscape. I could hardly conduct this review in a vacuum, and couldn’t complete it without mentioning the other talented artists who appear with Scott Matthew on this effort. It would seem that by luck, chance or fate, he has created a cabal of likeminded and powerful musicians. There is the perennial Eugene Lemcio, a chameleon able to adapt to whatever is needed, that looks at home no matter what instrument, however arcane or mundane it may be. I swear I expect he could take a ten gallon pickle jug and make music to cry by. Then there is the vixen Clara Kennedy, who with every caress of that bow, my heart falls to my stomach as if I were on some amusement ride, both thrilling and scary at the same time. Then there is Marisol Limon Martinez to round out the cortege, who plays the piano with such an intensity that is rarely seen in folk music and I marvel everytime I witness her playing. She seems so quiet and yet if her heart beats anything like her fingers play, and her interpretation as exquisite – I could weep. Making music a heart could break to, or find mending for.
So I return to the access, I’m blessed that he lives in New York City and I can see them perform live frequently, can hear these songs before they reach the recording studio, and then get entangled in the industry and its trappings. Yet I protest for the little boy or girl somewhere away from the major metropolises that can’t witness this first hand, who needs it recorded for posterity, to remind them that love is a vested item, that heartbreaks have happened since humans moved past mating and conscription, with the Enlightenment they realized love was an act of rebellion, a matter of free will. The romanticism of it all is enough to make me swell with pride. Where are the posters that should hang over their bed? So they can put that iPod on and gaze at that larger than life image, and weep for having found a voice for their pain, their joys, their aspirations, and our humanity. The indignity of it all, I mean the best they might do is an 8×11 printout from a color printer, or if they are ingenious a slideshow of the hundreds of pictures available on the web which they have diligently downloaded and compiled and presented in a vain approximation. They don’t even get an album insert stained with tears, or the modern equivalent the dog eared CD insert which is so worn it won’t even go back in the jewel case. Where is the merchandise, so readily available in Europe on the website – I can see every malcontented child carrying an organic cotton tote to take those pesky books which are their bane, while advertising rather subversively: “I’m not special but it helped to know that some one thinks I am” – do you know how much school violence and teen suicide we could prevent if each of us bought these for a child? I personally want to design a “Market Me to Children” tote with the other side in the fashion of the legendary OBEY sign with Scott’s messianic visage beaming. (trademark pending)™
But before those grubby brats make a fashion accessory out of it like the Wonka Chocolate factory rejects they are, and ruin one of the few good things in my life, let me just say I have a rather selfish motive. Do you know how hard it is to find a European friend to loan me € 5, and then mail me the goods as well? Who has the time really? I mean I’ve already agreed to sell my unborn & unlikely first child into white slavery to get a vinyl copy of the album. Oh, yes I could get the IMPORT CD, or pay Glitterhouse, but since Amazon & iTunes crushed and closed Tower, I can’t even walk in and ask a surly looking but oddly familiar east village freak to help me find it. That is too much to suffer in the greatest city on earth. Where they could have easily charged me $50 (which I think is what the € conversion comes out to with shipping) to save me having to use miles to fly all the way to Europe to get it. So instead I beg every friend going continental to take a few minutes, to help a brother out, and take a peak in the shop that is closest for my fix. I can’t even put it on my wish list on Amazon and find some strange pervy old man in Europe to buy it in exchange for a webcam peep show. Well I probably could, my standards have not fallen that far.
Honestly I don’t worry about Scott Matthew becoming corrupted by exposure, for honestly, if it hasn’t ruined some of my other favorites, like Me’shell signing with Madonna’s Sire records, and then unceremoniously dumped, well I figure as nasty as it gets, if you have talent there will always be a fan base that is not equal to a demographic or a quantifiable commodity. There will always be heartaches in need of a balladeer. A true voice in a sea of overtly crafted garbage will always rise like crème fraîche. What it does, is make it harder to access, to bond with, and connect to. I want a pdf of the album sleeve or the cd booklet that I can turn to my millennial Guttenberg press and reproduce. It could save me so much money when I’ve made a mess of the first one. I want credits so I can properly note who performed on the album, who to thank, who the artist thanks, and what genius created the artwork, damnit I want answers. I want them in that neat little package that for several decades I’ve grown accustomed to.
Those not old enough to read this won’t understand, they don’t know of the polyphonic joy of a crackling album they have listened to a million times, each pop representing a notch of when you tuned to it for solace. Like a winter’s fireplace the warmth that exists there in the sound, however inferior it is. It is resonant and can be felt to the bone. So much like the music you will find in this album. They can only see a record player in a museum now, poor things. They don’t have a secret stash of albums like old porn your father used to keep. They don’t know that when you are weeping, an album cover is the perfect breast plate for sobbing, that you can wrap your arms around it, like a long lost lover. I hope someday a low tech revolution happens after the zombie holocaust, when we are holed up in somebody’s dilapidated Fifth Avenue mansion, taking pot shots at the heads of those would be intruders like we we had a grudge. I can dream, damnit.
The world is flat, the music industry is flat lining, and the A&R guys have had their expense accounts cut, no booze & hookers, but come on – what does it take? I feel like a junkie begging his slick dealer to give me some credit. So spare me more humiliation, make a note that for the holidays all I really want is a nice bag, some crazy vinyl contraption, and the time to enjoy them in my solitude. If you are going to Europe, or if you live there now, take a moment, buy one for yourself, and let gentle peer pressure help you pass on this habit to another. Send mine in a lot of bubble wrap, and with all intended haste.
“there’s always something that I bared
its gone and make you run so scared”
Which brings me to my closing, a song that I’m sure was written for me, in some sort of Vulcan mind meld. To the jerk that got me hooked on this stuff, there is finally a song about our experience, told from my perspective which I’ve adopted from its true author. If there is one reason to pay full price for the album, and have it shipped from Germany or Switzerland, from either of the two stores offering it from Amazon, it is this song. It is as timeless as any. Who among us has not said something, only later to regret it, to be forsaken and forlorn by our impatient words or text messages or drunk dialing, it is inevitable in this thing we call modern life. At the end of Abandoned he croons:
“god its weird
god its strange
to be the only one
to be the only one”
The irony of these excerpted closing lyrics is that we all recognize it and know that feeling; even the scornful antagonist of this song knows what it is like to be the only one. A mass of lonely souls piled on top of one another in a city full of strangers clamoring for some redemption. You can even see it in the darkest of night.
I can hardly begrudge the person who forsook me but left something that can never leave me. Left me with a gift that keeps on giving he did. I can hardly regret the sucker who in breaking my heart also introduced me to the only thing that could redeem it; he has lost the greater prize. I’m not special, but it helped to know someone thinks I am special enough to get me hooked. A little bird told me that Scott Matthew and his coterie are heading back into the studio, for what I know will be the salve that I put on the next broken heart. I can hardly wait, until a shipment comes up through panama and has some kitschy nickname and brightly colored package, and I can invite my broken hearts club over and we can sit around in a circle to relieve ourselves of the burden we all carry.
That country mile will seem a lot shorter with friends along for the journey. So in all seriousness, and urgency get your copy, download it, enjoy it, and when you want to thank me – remember me at Hanukah, Christmas, and after the New Year when my birthday comes. If you have any pity – you may remember my unBirthday is the same day we celebrate the birth of our country, which is practically next week, but I accept gifts during Pride week for all the work I’ve done in making the entire world just a bit gayer.
So the next time you think your heart may be in danger of breaking, and you aren’t sure how you will endure it, turn to a troubadour with the extra special touch. Let it wash away all your sins in this modern conundrum, where we have nothing but choice, and we should choose life – this is music to accompany Agnes Gooch’s transformation. If you were listening closely, you’d see that while love hurts, to not be loved is even more painful in the end. To deny yourself a chance to fall in love is to turn away a chance at discovering just what you were looking for.
This is what I’ve been looking for, for a long time.