Archive - Jun 19, 2006 - Blog entry


On The Magnetic Fields

I've been meaning to blog about the band called The Magnetic Fields for about a year now. I'm finally getting to it.

The Magnetic Fields is basically one genius songwriter with an amazing baritone voice, Stephin Merritt. I spent a year being annoyed by them, I think mainly because my music-geek hipster housemate at the time was obsessed with them. But recently I've become enamoured with this music. I still have mixed feelings about it, but I can't stop listening.

I think ultimately that this music is unhealthy. In fact, The Magnetic Fields have taught me, once again, and finally, that listening obsessively to pop music, really good, catchy, clever, profound pop music, when you're struggling through a new relationship that may or may not progress past a couple weeks, is a bad idea.

Why? Because no pop song, unless you write it yourself (and I know, I used to do it), is going to perfectly express how you feel at any one time about any other person. It will perhaps be some close fascimile. OR it may be quite far from the truth. But the music will be so fucking cool, and you will enjoy it so much, that the lyrics will start to leach into your brain and make you belive they are describing your situation.

I remember when I was about 15 years younger than I am now, and I was in a new relationship, and I was really really really into this awesome local band from Ann Arbor called Wig. They had a song called "All The Love in the World." The lyrics were pretty much just repetitions of the following: "He MIGHT have HER but I OWN THE STREET and if I SEE THAT motherFUCKER he's DEAD!" This was sung by the insane stage presence of Preston Cleveland, a whiskey-swilling maniac who later got kicked out the band because everyone else in the band were potheads. Anyway, I am not a violent person. I have never been in a fight. I have never physically hurt another human intentionally. I barely know which end of my fist to use in a punch. But at the time, since I was competing with a trombone player in a ska band for the hand of his woman, I really wanted to believe that I OWNED THE STREET AND IF I saw that motherFUCKER he would be DEAD. Because the song was so godamned cool. Luckily I didn't kill anyone, but it's really fucking fun to sing that song.

I was singing that song tonite, unfortunately, as I rode up 4th avenue.

But anyway. Stephin Merritt's songs are like that. They are so infectious, so cool, so hip, so FUN to sing, at least if you have vocal chords that can reach that low, which I am relatively proud to say that I do, mostly.

The problem is, the mixed feelings are, that I believe that Stephin Merritt is fucking with us all. He is purposely writing ironic, post-modern, snarky, hipster lyrics that fuck with your head to some degree. He is so overly clever, and so... calculated, that it at first turned me off to listen to his songs. And then, somehow, I was drawn in. I was already really getting into them but what really hooked me was this new relationship which I have frequently said too much of on the pages of this blog. And this relationship is/was way too wise and postmodern and clever for something like The Beatles, too exuberant for Death Cab, too intellectual for Prince but too hot for Built to Spill. No, it seemed, at the time, that the Fields were perfect, or at least 1 in 10 of their songs. maybe.

In the end the Magnetic Fields are a bad idea for someone trying to decide how they feel about a new lover or potential lover. How does one sing along to the words of "Crazy For You (But Not That Crazy)" or "I don't Believe in the Sun" without getting a distorted picture of reality, not to mention "I wish I had an Evil Twin?"

Some of the songs I think hipsters love just for their pure transgressiveness. Is it homophobic or homoerotic to enjoy singing the words to "I thought you were my boyfriend?" Enjoy for the pure pleasure of singing it but also for the naughty fun of singing along with a very male voice that's singing about his boyfriend? Perhaps The Magnetic Fields could be some sort of ambassadors of gay love, because all these songs are as touching and romantic as any traditional love song, but Stephin Merrit is gay and for the most part is singing about men.

I like your twisted point of view, Mike
I like your questioning eyebrows
You've made it pretty clear what you like
It's only fair to tell you now
that I leave early in the morning
and I won't be back till next year
I see that kiss-me pucker forming
but maybe you should plug it with a beer, cause
Papa was a rodeo
Mama was a rock'n'roll band
(from "Papa Was a Rodeo")

Occasionally he goes too far with his snarky irony, and his deft manipulation of genres and styles to create atmospheres and points, like with the song "Punk Rock Love", which is so clearly making asinine fun of punk music as to be really annoying.

Anyway, I've had 2 mojitos and so this review is now over. I will just conclude with the promise that the next time I start a romance, I'm not going to listen to anything but instrumental music at all. Because as Frank Zappa once said, "music can really fuck you up," and as Aeschylus or however you spell it once said, "With music, any words are good."

cause I don't want to get over love
I could listen to my therapist,
pretend you don't exist,
and not have to dream of
what I dream of
I could listen to all my friends
and go out again
and pretend it's enough
or I could make a career of being blue
I could dress in black and read Camus
smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth
like I was 17
that would be a scream
but I don't want to get over you
(from I Don't Want To Get Over You)