pale fire

August 28, 2009


pale fire

This is a song I finished recording last night called “Pale Fire.”  I’ve had most of the instrumental elements of it sitting around for a while, looping themselves along, but I just couldn’t figure out any lyrics for the life of me.  I finally decided that, as usual, I needed some kind of device to help me actually “write,” so what I decided was I was going to do was make the lyrics be solely from the titles on The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list and so try to make like a standard indie rock love song but one which was a collage completely composed of these titles of important old books.  As it turns out, this is actually kind of a really, really difficult thing to do, so after expanding my list to include the Time 100 and “composing” some torturous “verses” like “It’s An American Tragedy / that you won’t fall in love with me” and “We’re in the Tropic of Cancer, you’re a capricorn / let’s go To The Lighthouse and eat buttered corn,” I basically gave up on that shit and just scrawled out another pseudo-ironic song about not being able to express myself adequately.  At this point, I have basically done a kind of indie rock Exercices de Style of songs about not being able to express myself adequately (witness: bricolage, lipogram, the Artist’s Way, cool love, and meta-summer-jam; there are others).  The only things that remain in this version from the original concept are the chorus (which invokes Play It As It Lays, The Remains of the Day, Tender Is The Night, Heart of Darkness, as well as Pale Fire) and the half-whispered breakdown.

I’ve never actually read Pale Fire, just in case you think I’m getting too smarty-arty or fancy pants or whatever (somewhat embarrassingly, I realize actually haven’t read any of the books that I shout out in the chorus, although I think I skimmed the Sparknotes of Heart of Darkness for AP English).  When I lived in Korea, I had a real problem with finding books; there was only one bookstore in my city with a decent English language section and this selection was “decent” at best.  People who read English language writing in Korea apparently really love Paulo Coehlo, in addition to approximately one billion books on Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Warren Buffett and success in business.  There was the occasional surprise and I was forced to read classics which I might never have enjoyed otherwise, but mostly buying books there was kind of a bust.  So what I ended up doing was listening to a lot of audiobooks I downloaded off the internet; I listened to The Trial and The Castle, I listened to On Beauty, I listened to My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, I listened to No Country For Old Men, as well as many others (to be servicey for a second, the only decent blog for bootleg audiobooks is Audiobook Corner; although their selection is way too fantasy/sci-fi for my taste, they occasionally have something lovely or just weird.  The best place I’ve found is The Pirate Bay, where you can get stuff like Richard Ellmann’s biography of Joyce or a valu-pack of Orlando and To The Ligthouse as well as a lot of more contemporary and popular stuff.  If you are more legally inclined and moral (good for you!), Audible always has some introductory offer where they will give you a book or two for free if you cancel before the trial period’s over).  Anyway, my favorite audiobook I’ve ever listened to is Jeremy Irons’ reading of Lolita. Early last fall in Korea, when I was working evenings, I was into this routine where every morning I would get up at eight o’ clock and hike along this quiet two-lane road through these rolling and twisting verdant and sun-dappled hills for 45 minutes to get to this little local beach where I would usually be the only person around and then, after having run and swum and tanned there for a while, I would hike back for 45 minutes.  Along the way, I listened to Lolita, which was one of the better reading (er, listening) experiences I’ve ever had.

Though I haven’t read Pale Fire, earlier this summer, having loved Lolita so much last summer, I tried to read Ada.  This was an experience that was at first extremely frustrating (the information overload of the first thirty pages), then somewhat pleasurable (getting used to the language play and kind of beginning to enjoy it), then extremely pleasurable (the beautiful imagery and metaphor used to detail Van and Ada’s time together), then kind of whatever (progression and extrapolation of narrative), then kind of frustrating again (weird science fiction elements and plot meandering), then incredibly frustrating (just insanely punny and dense paragraphs for seemingly no reason at all) and then I gave up and read a Tom Perotta novel, I think.  Writing this, I just dug my Ada out of the bottom of my laundry basket, where I hid it because I was mad at it, and I see that I have marked the exact paragraph where I gave up on the book; it’s this one, from page 379:

“–I got stuck with six Buchstaben in the last round of a Flavita game.  Mind you, I was eight and had not studied anatomy, but was doing my poor little best to keep up with two Wunderkinder.  You examined and fingered my groove, and quickly redistributed the haphazard sequence which made, say, LIKROT or ROTIKL and Ada flooded us both with her raven silks as she looked over our heads, and when you had completed the rearrangement, you and she came simultaneously, si je puis le mettre comme ça(Canady French), came falling on the black carpet in a paroxysm of incomprehensible merriment; so finally I quietly composed ROTIK (“little mouth”) and was left with my own cheap initial.  I hope I’ve thoroughly got you mixed up, Van, because la plus laide fille du monde puet donner beaucoup plus qu’elle n’a, and now let us say adieu, yours ever.”

So, um, yeah, that is a really complicated way to describe little kids having sex!  This thing I did right here, my “Pale Fire,” is just, like, a rock song, you know, with guitars and drums and stuff, it’s not really all that complicated, despite whatever meta-underpinnings may be present.  It’s too trebly and overdriven, like a Times New Viking outtake or something, but I printed the effects when I recorded so there wasn’t much I could do about it besides try to soften things up after the fact with reverb and EQ.  I watched Miley Cyrus on the Today Show this morning and I would say she rocked about 35% harder than this song, which, you know, good for her!  In her interview with Natalie in the Plaza, Miley said she is going in an “edgier, darker rock” direction on her next record, so maybe I will head the other way, just to stay competitive.

4 Responses to “pale fire”

  1. Omg, I LOVE this song!!! Perfect from start to finish. (I’d also love to ask you what you use for drums if that’s not overreaching…) Xo Matt G

    • songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

      Thanks! And no, not overreaching at all: the drums on this are the “Multi-Mic Kit” from Battery 3 ( with some reverb on top. I’ve had Battery for a few months and really enjoyed playing with it; a lot of the drum sounds, especially the acoustic sounds, are pretty good, although sometimes it’s a little hard to get them (especially the cymbals) to sit right in a mix. It retails for like $200 but of course there are dark corners of the Internet where a person might be able to find certain things, if you know what I mean (e-mail me if you need to).

  2. Patrick Says:

    It (=Ada) is a weird book (I have a master’s in English Lit!) but it might be worth your jumping ahead to Part Three, Chapter Five to read about what happens to Lucette: it is sad but good (like life..?).
    And then, you know, just read the wikipedia page for the rest.

    • songsaboutbuildingsandfood Says:

      Yeah, opening it up and reading that paragraph over and over for the post kind of made me remember why I liked it even though it was so frustrating, so might I actually really finish reading it. If not, thanks very much for the guide!

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