Sunday, June 28, 2009
Albums I enjoy #39
39. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
"All I want in life's a little bit of love to take the pain away"
Jason Pierce, a.k.a. J. Spacemen, took drugs, wrote music, wrote music to take drugs to, and took drugs to make music to take drugs to. He rocketed into space and fell down. His bandmate/girlfriend secretly married a rival artist. The spaceman was now plummeting through the Earth. He was practically six feet deep. But now he drifts back up. All his excesses, all his vices, all his failed grand romances - all of this melts away. All he needs now is a little bit of love. Well, don't we all.
The real style that the music goes for is a little hard to get a hold of sometimes. Sometimes it swerves right for true free-jazz experimentation, like in the album closer "Cop Shoot Cop". Sometimes it heads that way, but then gets pretty intense, with roaring drums and guitar instead of wandering, sparse trumpets. The beginning is glass-lake smooth shoegaze. Sometimes the guitar bends and the trumpets chime in and out like, and I shudder to draw the comparison - top 40 pop of the late eighties.
This is a real love album, although Jason seems to drift back and forth between love for some girl and love for heroin. The start of "I Think I'm in Love" starts with a euphoric, poetry-laden explanation of his feelings, obviously those of a junkie. It's heavy stuff, he acknowledges the shortcomings of a life lived high but the absolute pleasure he receives. Then he does the exact same thing for another six minutes and it's hilarious. I think the most genius part of it all, beyond the musical talent or creativity or insight is his self-awareness. He understands and explains his situation better through his lyrics than most of us can even begin to realize.
If the lyrics on this album prove one thing more than anything else, it's that J. Spaceman is not the happy-go-lucky individual he has never been cracked up to be. To borrow from Seinfeld, he's sad-stop-unlucky. Sure, he occasionally writes funny, colourful music that bounces around off walls and crackles like fireworks, but when that all strips away to reveal the lone last stand of a horn, and then even that fades out to reveal him, quietly, bleeding out "Though I have a broken heart", you know that everything else was just a cover up. An act. Even if he thinks he is happy, one part of his brain is lying. Keeping the truth from it. When he declares that he has his breakfast off of a mirror, or from a bottle, he's not just turning out a clever image to amuse the listener. He's sugarcoating his own situation for his own benefit. When he shouts, "I play with fire, if you know what I mean!", I know exactly what he means. The question then becomes, does he even know what he means? Does he want to know?
But words can only do so much when it comes to actual expression of one's innermost emotions. Two completely instrumental tracks appear on the album, both of them intense movements of rampaging brass and strings. The first, "The Individual" keeps all the energy of "Electricity" over to "Home of the Brave". The second breaks up two of the more melancholy and slow songs on the album, "Broken Heart" and "Cool Waves". This track, titled "No God, Only Religion" seems to be the conflict in Jason's head directly transformed into music. Taking each track as a chronological marker of his decision making and emotional state, he had just finished bleeding out his broken heart and began the struggle of acceptance. In "Cool Waves", he seems to have made a decision: to move on, singing
"Baby if you lose your love/Don't take me by surprise/Don't think you're crying/But there's teardrops in your eyes/If you gotta leave/You gotta leave", easily his most direct reference to Kate on the album.
So where can he go from there but back to where he was before her? Like he said, all of his thoughts were with her(oin). "Cop Shoot Cop", with its 17 minute length and multiple movements, would be more at home on earlier release Lazer Guided Melodies. This makes sense. Both are wild, psychedelic jams through the mind of someone its hardly even connected to. The album couldn't have ended any better. He finally moved on from his post-relationship depression either as a result of or leading to him going back on junk. It's the sort of ending that would be great in a movie, but expressed as a series of excellent songs, it's downright awesome.
Now, more than 10 years later, we can all too easily put this album in better perspective on the time line of Jason's life, and know that he never descended again into a smack-fuelled hell, nor did he commit suicide, like so many brilliant musicians before him. No, he went on to keep releasing great albums, touring, living his life. It hasn't been great - he ended up in the hospital at death's door for pneumonia recently - but it's been a life. Still, it's hard to listen to this album and not get caught up in the drama, the beauty, the sadness and the introspection of a junkie's life. Probably because - at least for one snapshot of a few months - it was unbelievably real.