February 4, 2008
so i did a cover of “higher,” heidi montag’s single, which officially comes out tomorrow. it’s kind of like when jimi hendrix played “sergeant pepper” live three days after it had been released. except…not.
it was really kind of difficult to cover. you may think all those synthesizer parts in heidi’s version are silly, but as my single abortive synth solo in the final chorus of my cover makes clear, they’re hard to play, yo. also, the melody is pretty complicated, rhythmically, so i smudged it out with my jeff tweedy/big star/wowiamreallyflatteringmyself crayon.
anyway, what this song really got me thinking about was that song by zooey deschanel that was just released on stereogum. because like heidi montag, zooey deschanel is not a very good singer. don’t get me wrong, i think “why do you let me stay here” is absolutely adorable and i like her a lot, but that doesn’t make her billie holiday. that’s okay, though, she doesn’t have to be – neither heidi montag nor zooey deschanel are very good singers, so they’re not bringing the joy of pure melody or rich harmonics to the table. what they’re bringing is an extension of their brand, from image to sound. maybe that sounds crass, but if it does, i’m assuming you’re assuming it sounds crass about zooey, not heidi. which is of course bullshit.
zooey’s song is a perfect sonic manifestation of the persona she’s trying to project: the indie filmrock chanteuse vintage cutie. for this purpose, she’s got the perfect mainstreamindie producer, m.ward – he’s not as mainstream as rick rubin, though he shares a similar analog aesthetic, but he’s not super underground, either; “post war,” which i loved, BTW, could have easily been released at starbucks. her covers are cred-tastic; a sixties soul song (“you really got a hold on me”) and an early beatles track (“i should’ve known better”). her voice is like the PG version of nancy – there’s twang, but no bite; she’ll make out with you, but she’s no sex goddess, she’s a sweet-tart sweet heart. the nancy thing, now that i think about it, is even more apt – “she and him” is really (even in the grammar of the name) the 2.0 version of “nancy and lee“- it’s “nancy and lee” for people who loved the movie “once.”
read this copy, from the merge website
“She & Him is a story of musical serendipity: Two artists, each renowned in their own creative fields, meet and recognize a certain shared nostalgia. The result is destined to be one of the musical highlights of the year.
Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward first met to record a version of Richard and Linda Thompson’s “When I Get To The Border” for a movie soundtrack. Immediately struck by one another’s talents and finding an instant rapport, Zooeylet slip that she wrote her own songs which she recorded alone at home on her computer. Somewhat shy about anyone hearing these musical morsels she eventually sent the demos to Matt who was instantly impressed. They soon reconvened at his Portland studio to begin work.
Embracing the warm sound of early analog recordings, Volume 1 is more than just a showcase for Zooey’s rich and endearing voice; it’s a distinctive and endlessly charming album. The songs themselves give a respectful nod to the likes of Dusty Springfield, Linda Ronstadt and The Zombies while Matt’s production gives them just the right amount of golden era sheen. Whether Zooey’s channeling Ronnie Spector as on “I Was Made For You” or joining Matt in turning The Beatles “I Should Have Known Better” into a seductive hula guitar duet, the results are always captivating. “
she’s shy about her bedroom recordings? they were recording a richard and linda thompson song? they did the album in PORTLAND?! my favorite bit of indified adjaculation (besides the boilerplate “the warm sound of early analog recordings”) is “golden era sheen” which just reminds me again of how gorgeous zooey deschanel was in those lovely analog grain looking beautiful golden light scenes in “almost famous,” which when i was sixteen was as close as i was getting to drugs and/or sex. i know i am sounding really mean here but the truth is i love this song and i love zooey deschanel. i will probably listen to her record way more than i have ever listened to nancy sinatra. like, look at her in the picture above – i don’t know what the fuck that part of the vintage dress is called that looks like a bib, but it’s so cute and i love it, just like her self-consciously retro hair. “why do you let me stay here” and the promotional material makes me want to be m. ward and have hot indie sex with zooey deschanel. this is, of course, exactly the point.
heidi’s song is also a perfect sonic manifestation of the persona she’s trying to project – that’s why it seems so fucking crazy, because what she’s trying to project is fucking crazy. when, on “jimmy kimmel,” heidi described her producer’s music as “from outer space…literally from god,” it sounded ridiculous, and yet when i hear that insane synthed out intro, i see exactly what she meant. it’s not real outer space music, it’s not literally from god, but it’s exactly how heidi’s persona would interpret those terms. i imagine her with big studio headphones on sitting with her eyes closed and bopping in an office chair to these weird synths and floyd-y noises while spencer and theron do lines in the studio bathroom. this is a “reality” “star” who has said with all seriousness that she’s going to win an oscar someday – not that she wants to be a great actress, not even that she wants to win an oscar, but that she’s going to win an oscar.
do you want an example of why this song is perfect for heidi’s persona ? okay, so last week heidi and spencer got outed for manufacturing their paparazzi photos, right? then, sunday, spencer gets quoted in the new york times style section in an article about how celebrities go to vegas in order to avoid being photographed by the paparazzi.
“In Vegas, I don’t have to worry about photographers waiting outside my house every day because they can’t wait outside my hotel room,” Spencer Pratt, a star of the MTV reality series “The Hills,” said in early January as he and Heidi Montag, his co-star and girlfriend, posed for photos on a red carpet on the way to an event that they were paid to attend at the Jet nightclub at the Mirage.
“When we travel here we have bodyguards, there are people with earpieces making sure there aren’t any photos we don’t want, making sure there’s no problems,” Mr. Pratt said. “I’m sure a lot of celebrities come out to Vegas because it’s like a hide-out, it’s a getaway.”
notice in the first quotation how he doesn’t mention that he’s complicit in the image making and is in fact collaborating with the paparazzi who are shooting him. notice in the second quotation how his “a lot of celebrities” implicitly includes himself and heidi, who a lot of celebrities would not classify as part of “a lot of celebrities.” this is crazy! do people not see how crazy this is?
don’t get me wrong, the song is out there, i know. the lyrics are often insane – in the second verse, she sings (or i think she sings) “there’s no one next to me…i feel free” and then sings “it’s like our families.” how is being alone like our families? unless this is a deep revelation about rootlessness and the weakness of familial bonds which only seems like someone trying to find another word that rhymes with “me” and “free.” i just recorded the first two verses because honestly i have no clue what she’s saying in the third verse (something about “keeping the pace?”). but again, all of this is perfect for a song by heidi montag.
there are similarities between the two songs. lyrically, both traffic in vague generalities. zooey’s are passive (“why do you let me stay here…i’m just sitting on the shelf”) and passively coy (“i think you’re just so pleasant / i would like you for my own”) and coyly infantilized (“you make me feel like i am just a child”); heidi’s are active (“nothing can stop me now”) and actively bold (“i feel the energy / i’m breaking boundaries”) and boldly retarded (the aforementioned second verse, which rhymes “me”/”families”/”i feel free”/”found the key”). both songs have breakdowns to massed voices and sparse instrumentation; in zooey’s case, it’s a brian wilson approved wordless doo-dah fest; in heidi’s case, it’s a repetition of the word “higher” over a thrummy club bass and more casios.
unlike zooey’s song, i don’t know what heidi’s song makes me feel. like, i guess it’s supposed to make me feel, like, “heidi montag is a transcendent pop icon like her idols madonna, britney spears, and stevie wonder.” obviously it doesn’t make me or anyone else with ears feel that. maybe what it makes me feel is “heidi montag is trying really hard to make me feel that heidi montag is a transcendent pop icon like her idols madonna, britney spears, and stevie wonder.” and i think that’s kind of admirable and brave and stupid and fake and honest and naive and fascinating, which is basically how i feel about heidi montag. i have two favorite parts of “higher.” my second favorite part is at the end, where, over eerily twinkling faux-dissonant adorno-cranking-dat-in-his-grave piano, she breathily intones “am i dreaming?” which i think is probably an echo of some britney thing, but i don’t know britney enough to know that. my first favorite part is when she sings “higher” four times during the breakdown, between 2:01 and 2:09. objectively, they’re awful – so painful and strained. yet they’re great because they’re so painful and strained – britney spears or madonna would never release a record with a sound like that on it. heidi wants to be like them, she tries really hard to be like them, but she can’t, because she’s just not a good singer.
and that’s why i like heidi and zooey, because i’m not a very good singer either. i know it and i know it’s probably not going to change, i’m not going to wake up tomorrow and sound like marvin gaye or rufus wainright. like heidi and zooey, i’m just trying hard and doing the best i can.
p.s. i did a power pop version because that is my skill set, but what this song is obviously waiting for is a mixtape remix about getting blazed. the obvious choice for the guest verses is weezy or one of his proteges (protegi?), but i hold out hope that it could be a return to the spotlight for afroman, one of my personal heroes (“because i got high” is dumb but “colt 45” is one of my top 10 songs of all time, easy. it’s the “rappers delight” of my generation.)