On Galaxie 500 and Baudelaire

07Dec07

Yet another raw December day on which to consider the question of how much happier we might be somewhere else in the world! We stare out the window at the low winter sky and ask if perhaps we might prefer to live in Miami, where it never snows and our bones might not feel so brittle. Could we not sit by the ocean and be soothed by the pastel hues in the sunset and watch the eternal parade of Latin queens? No, our soul responds, that is not for us. So what about Hawaii? Haven’t we always wanted to live in the lush tropics, where the air smells of orchids and we could finally learn to surf? We could spend decades exploring the underwater cities and not once tire of the mutating shapes and colors! But that too barely excites our skeptical soul, so we next consider Barcelona. Yes, Spain — land of Pedro Almodovar and gay marriage — a mix of old-world Europe and the most progressive tenets of modernism. Could anything be better? Or what about Sydney, Australia? Can you imagine the pleasure of living in a country of desert and ocean the same size as the United States but with only 5 or 10 percent of the population? Surely we could drum up some anticipation for escaping this life we lead among the hordes?

But again no, none of these flights checks our listless spirit, and it is only when we hear the strains of Galaxie 500 that we begin to understand why. It has been a long time since we listened to On Fire, the second album released by the band on Rough Trade in 1989. Do you remember the first time we heard Galaxie 500? And how we brushed them off as pretentious and lugubrious? We preferred Mudhoney, Dinosaur, Jr. and a handful of other prototypical grunge bands that could make our ears bleed in the sonic hurricanes that arose out of our collective Gen-X slacker angst. It wasn’t until a few years later, after (no coincidence) we moved to the city, that we were first infected by Galaxie 500, the syrupy texture of Dean’s dueling Gibson guitars and nasal off-kilter falsetto; Naomi’s austere bass-playing, limited to the five highest frets of her bass; and Damon’s mesmerizing drumming! Who cared if he could barely keep time? He played with a less-is-more intricacy (which is to say intelligence) that most obviously recalled Moe Tucker of the Velvet Underground but kept the music safely removed from the primitiveness typically associated with say, Beat Happening and their equally annoying lo-fi/twee descendants. Credit here must also be given to Kramer, who recorded and produced the music in the best sense of the word, saturating it with extreme amounts of reverb, giving it an atmospheric yet emotionally haunted quality that perfectly suits the lyrical images of yearning and estrangement.

To hear Galaxie 500 is to recognize the oddly oblivious and desperate years we spent watching our life seep through the palms of our hands, which is why we don’t listen to them much anymore; it’s an era that thankfully has passed. But today, “Blue Thunder” reminds us of something even more timeless, which is the idea that nowhere — not Miami, not Barcelona, not even New York — will ever satisfy our soul, which yearns only to be taken (as per Baudelaire, in case you were wondering): “Anywhere! Just so it is out of the world!”

“Thinking of blue thunder
Singing to myself
Thinking how fast it moves
Feeling how it turns
I was singing something
Out on Route 128
Thinking how blue it looks
Singing out aloud

I’ll drive so far away
I’ll drive so far away
I’ll drive so far away
I’ll drive so far away”

“Blue Thunder,” Galaxie 500, On Fire (Rough Trade, 1989)

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