24 January 2008

8+

"Real Emotional Trash" by Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks which clocks in at 10:09

(In which we use Google Maps to get a better understanding of this song)

Making sense of Stephen Malkmus's lyrics is largely a hit-or-miss endeavor. Some are so straightforward they read like a picture book. See Jenny. See Jenny run to the Ess Dog. The Ess Dog drives a Volvo with ancient plates.

File "The Hook" under this category. Synopsis: A 19-year old is captured by Turkish pirates only to earn their respect by age 25 and eventually run the crew by the time he's 31. Simple enough, yes?

But of course, not everything can be so direct in the mind of Malkmus, and most songs surrender neat narrative arcs to clever wordplay, verbal gymnastics and Cuisinart-assembled word sequences that sound as cool as they are inscrutable. Sample lyric (from "Discretion Grove"): "Major Alfonso mind up the gold, the ceremonial dead trees told him all that he could do..."

Huh?

Coherence bookended with nonsense, logic sucker-punched by absurdity, such dichotomies define Malkmus's lyrics and have really done so ever since Slanted and Enchanted.

And sure enough, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between "Oh I think I understand that!" and "what the Mr. Eff?" comes "Real Emotional Trash", the 10-minute scorcher of a title track from the forthcoming album of the same name...

Cursory listens reveal the song's protagonist mulling whether he should track down his long-lost father (sample lyric: "Daddy's on the run"). He's found his dad's trail, he knows he wants to follow it, yet an inability to actually do so pervades. Like Hansel and Gretel's trail of breadcrumbs, here poppa has left a similar trail of, um, his own personal psychological trash? As the protagonist puts it, "Easy said but less often done, point me in the direction of your real emotional trash."

Of course, this is only my understanding of the lyrics. As per usual, Malkmus leaves things cryptic enough for a potentially endless amount of interpretation to ensue. And while you marinate on whether my reading of the situation holds any water, dig the lengthy instrumental passage, yeyah!

(let's all pause and jam out now to this interlude starting around 3:13)

Okay, you back with me? Good. What have we missed? Well, the third act finds the protagonist being less Hamlet and more Jack Bauer. Like those awful IBM ads, he's stopped thinking and started doing, hitting the road to track down daddy dearest, which means - ROAD TRIP.

And since we're in the business of making Malkmus's lyrics painfully tangible and comprehensible, I've gone ahead and done up a Google Map of the route he presumably follows in search of his father:


View Larger Map

This is based on the only geographic scraps we're given throughout the song, which are the following:

"I traipsed over the Mexican border in a cheap caravan man..."
FOLLOWED BY
"Made it back to Frisco in a vanity chest to the painted ladies on house arrest..."
AND FINALLY
"Down in Sausalito we had clams for dessert..."

So - as indicated in the above map - he starts his trek just across the Mexican border (I took liberties with the lyrics and picked Tijuana as the exact locale, it just felt right). After finding relief for an upset stomach there (I'm not making this up, listen to the lyrics), he heads all the way up to San Francisco hidden in a vanity chest to presumably rendezvous with women of loose morals. That right there is an 8 hour drive - and possibly over 10 with traffic - but the good news for him is that the final trip to Sausalito is a mere 20 minutes.

Okay, so we've charted his ideal course, made allowances for any possible traffic along the way, and now have a much better understanding of what the hell he's talking about, right?

Well, the thing is that after Sausalito the lyrics sort of give way to another Allman Brothers-esque guitar solo, and as a result the whole plot of tracking down a long-lost father is pretty much abandoned in the name of further shredding. So...what then? Maybe, umm, this could be indicative of a joyous reunion between father and son?

Sigh...

Look, I've got to be honest with you. I'm getting the feeling that "Daddy's on the run" was kind of a red herring. Charting a Google Map in response to it may have been as useful as trying to WebMD symptoms to the lyrics in "Baby C'Mon": "If you give it to me Timmy, I'm out here on a limb-y" (ie he's probably not talking about tennis elbow).

Malkmus 1, EAR FARM 0

Fine. You may have won this round Stephen, but just wait until we curl up with seasons 1-4 of The Wire and start explicating "Baltimore"; it's gonna blow your fucking mind.

*above photo found HERE

Buy Real Emotional Trash (available 3/4/08) on Amazon/on Insound

EAR FARM's 8+ is a weekly feature that showcases songs longer than 8 minutes. In the recent past these songs were featured on EF's 8+:
Iron Maiden - "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son"
Mandy Reid - "Tornado"
Genesis - "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight"
Metallica - "Master of Puppets"
British Sea Power - “Lately”
The Decemberists - “The Mariner's Revenge Song”
Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Free Bird"
Ludwig van Beethoven - "Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 - Allegretto"

To see a full list of every song featured in EAR FARM's 8+ click HERE.

9 comments:

agjones76 said...

One thing to note is that the Painted Ladies Malkmus refers to in the song most likely are a row of houses near Alamo Square in San Francisco. You might recognize them as the alleged home of the Tanners in "Full House."

http://postcardexchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/postcard-row.jpg

Mike said...

ah ha, some new info coming to light! thanks very much for the tip, had i known i would have tried my best to work in some Full House angle. also, I probably should also mention that I am mostly ignorant about all things West Coast so if there's anything else that's false please sound off.

Anonymous said...

the west coast is false.

EAST SAYEED!

Anonymous said...

I think "daddy's on the run" isn't about the narrator's father; the narrator himself is on the run.

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