I’ve been getting around on crutches for the past two weeks, and believe me when I say I am now fully prepared to hurl the curse’d things into the East River. I’ve tried to make the most of the situation, decorating my crutches with cheerful washi tape to make a bad experience a little more palatable. But, dear reader, crutches suck. They’re loud, awkward, cumbersome and exhausting, and I am more than ready to be done with them. I have an orthopedist’s appointment tomorrow and I’m hoping for good news re: my foot. In the mean time, as I slowly crutch around a deeply crutch-unfriendly city, I’ve got my tunes to keep me sane.
“Crutch” is the seventh track on Pinback’s 1999 self-titled debut, which turned 20 this month. It’s not the best track on the album–that would be the unbeatable earworm “Loro”–but it’s a close second, and one that happens to be appropriate to my current situation.
Lyrically, like a lot of Pinback songs, “Crutch” is a bit of a mystery. The title comes from a brief allusion to a “rubber crutch” hitting the pavement–when, where, why or to whom said crutch might belong is unclear. Musically, though, the song’s looping structure, lurching beat and melancholy hook make a great sonic analog to the restlessness of limited mobility. “No one cares too much over what happened to you,” Rob Crow sings, and it’s true.
Part of what I find so exhausting about using crutches is not only the awkwardness of carrying my own weight in a way my body wasn’t designed for or the tedium of having to think hard about every single step I take. It’s also bearing the weight of strangers’ overwhelming indifference to my situation. Many have stopped to hold doors, help me carry things and commiserate with their own tales of injury, and to these good people I’m deeply grateful. But many is, unfortunately, not the same thing as most. Most people are far too wrapped up in the minutiae of their day to take a few seconds to help a person who is obviously struggling.
I’m trying to embrace empathy wherever I can get it, and I hear a bit of that empathy in “Crutch.”
Alex DiFrancesco is a great writer, a voluble Twitter presence, and an all-around cool cat who I am pleased to call a friend. Alex’s new memoir Psychopomps is out now on Civil Coping Mechanisms/The Accomplices and their second novel, All City, comes out June 18th on Seven Stories Press. Alex and I originally met as coworkers and bonded over our shared love of– among other things–writing, music, and writing about music, so Alex was the first person who came to mind when I decided to launch this new interview series. Alex and I sat down for a conversation last Sunday, April 14th. Read on!
Good morning. What’s the last song you listened to?
Gillian Welch’s “The Way it Goes” in on shuffle at this very moment, and I’m quite pleased.
I just realized it’s April 14th! “April the 14th Pt. 1” is my all-time favorite Gillian Welch jam. What’s yours?
Actually, exactly the same one. I once had a partner who was a fellow writer. I put that song on a playlist for them shortly before we did a reading event in Detroit that got written up in a local newspaper. Their response to seeing the write-up was, “Holy shit, we did better than the punks in that Gillian Welch song.” The lyric they were referring to was, “They looked sick and stoned, and strangely dressed/ No one showed from the local press.”
I also love that particular verse of “April the 14th,” especially the way she ends on “…and I wish I played in a rock’n’roll band.”
Some day I want to make a mix of “songs about musicians watching other musicians.” I’ve only got two so far though. (“April the 14th,” and “Talby” by Pinback.) What’s a mix concept you’d like to realize?
I’ve been trying to round out my writing playlists. I have a few requirements for music I listen to while I write–namely that it’s instrumental and experimental, that it makes my brain kind of sink into a fertile place for creativity while blocking out the noise of the world. My two mainstays have been William Basinki’s The Disintegration Loops and The Lounge Lizards’Queen of All Ears (minus “Yak”), but I’ve wanted to branch out more in the same vein. The experiential fiction writer Never Angel North (who also published her work under the name Sara June Woods) and the experimental poet Margo M both tag teamed a great recommendation playlist that includes 00I00, Moondog, Winged Victory for the Sullen, and more great stuff I’m still wading through. Totally my dream playlist from two of my favorite writers.
Do you ever listen to CAN while you write? I’ve always had good luck with CAN.
No, but I will check them out!
Lyrics are tricky, though. I’m the kind of person who can’t NOT hear lyrics unless I already know them by heart, or they’re in a language I don’t understand–but even then! I’m very, very tuned in to words.
I’m usually big on lyric-heavy music (Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Townes Van Zandt), so finding stuff without for writing is a challenge for me. Sometimes, as you noted, stuff like Edith Piaf who sings in French, is fine, but I usually can’t do lyrics while writing at all.
Speaking of words, you have a dang novel coming out!! How are you feeling about it?
Yeah! I have a novel, ALL CITY, coming out on June 18th! I’m amped! It’s already got a glowing review in Publishers Weekly and amazing blurbs from some of my favorite writers. My publishers are doing an amazing job building it up, and I’m really thrilled to be releasing it and doing a bit of a DIY book tour (my publicist set up events in places I have couches to crash on.) I’ll be in NYC, Philly, Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit.
How would you describe the soundtrack to your novel?
I once made playlists for all the characters. I only remember that the rich art collector listens to Madonna’s–not Sinead’s–version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” The main badass, who works at the convenience store chain that has taken over NYC and organizes a utopian squat after a superstorm, listens to Detroit techno, and the queer squatter who lives in an old train station listens to riot-folk and sings Woody Guthrie songs.
I spend an inordinate amount of time putting things in alphabetical order. I work at a bookstore, where alphabetization is the thin blue line between commerce and chaos. After many, many hours of shelving books, I’ve had alphabetization drilled so deeply into my subconscious I sort things alphabetically almost without thinking.
I had alphabet on the brain when I made this mix. Normally, when I put together playlists, I focus on things like coordinating beat and key, establishing a theme, giving the whole thing a good intuitive temporal-narrative “flow”- you know, music stuff. Applying an entirely separate rule set – a rigid, arbitrary one, at that – could have been a disaster, but frankly I’m pretty pleased with the results.
Is it an obnoxious audiophile flex? Sure! But what is a music blog for, if not a series of obnoxious audiophile flexes? So, without further ado – the ABCs of herjazz.net. Share and enjoy.