Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Two Chord Monte

This post is obvious, I'd be surprised if it hasn't been done already. Four songs: two chords each - Peter Laughner throws in a descending minor chord progression, but only to return to the stark two chord template laid out in Lou Reed's "Heroin." All of these songs follow that model and are indebted to the original as well as it's precursor. "Heroin" becomes "Amphetamine," which was coincidentally the drug of choice for both of these songwriters. Unfortunately, speed kills. Peter Laughner died at 24. He worshipped Lou Reed - as did his pal and running buddy Lester Bangs who followed him to the grave a few years later and whose best piece of writing may be his obituary for Laughner. Jeff Tweedy quotes "Amphetamine" directly in "Misunderstood," the cacophonous opener to Wilco's Being There.

Take the guitar player for a ride
'cause he ain't never been satisfied

He thinks he owes some kind of debt

Be years before he gets over it

Musically, it tips it's hat to "Heroin." It's not as sublime or shocking as John Cale's droning, and then screeching viola, or Mo Tucker's mathematical, cymballess drumming, but it was 1996 not 1966, and these things were already appropriated countless times and taken for granted in indie rock. It was a departure for Wilco, and alienated some of their fans, who were holding onto some weird and bogus ideal of alternative country purity. The Laughner reference is an inspired one. Josh Ritter's "Thin Blue Flame" is an apocalyptic vision of American society at war and turmoil. A lot of wordy images and the same two chords played on the guitar and then the piano and like on "Misunderstood," building to a noisy crescendo. It's the most sober of all these selections, but again there's a reference to illicit substances.

Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They’re guilty when killed and they’re killed where they’re found

If what’s loosed on earth will be loosed up on high

It’s a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die

Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please

The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees

Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage

Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage

Lead pellets peppering aluminum

Halcyon, laudanum and Opium

This record knocked me out when I first heard it.
Actually, all of these records did and still do.


"Heroin" mp3
by The Velvet Underground, 1967.
available on The Velvet Underground & Nico

"Amphetamine" mp3
by Peter Laughner, 1975.
available on Take the Guitar Player for a Ride
out of print

"Misunderstood" mp3
by Wilco, 1996.
available on Being There

"Thin Blue Flame" mp3
by Josh Ritter, 2006.
available on Animal Years

Buy: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs

top photo: © Ted Barron

This blog does not endorse drug abuse.


Anonymous said...

It's never too late to start endorsing it! Great blog. Thanks.

Ted Barron said...

and never too late to stop.

McWyrm said...

Another: 'Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way' - Jennings