Wednesday, January 23, 2008

LEEF trax: "The Job Song"

Those of you who have been checking the IJG MySpace site (and considering the clunky functionality of MySpace, why the fuck would you?!) may have noticed that I recently started sneaking in a few close-to-final mixes from the upcoming IJG album (which will indeed be called LEEF).

I'll have more to say about the album in a bit (I'm taking a pass at mastering it this weekend), but for now I just wanted to alert everyone to the fact that I have "released" a "digital single" of sorts, via one of the (seemingly) millions of new music / networking websites out there. To wit: "The Job Song" (in a higher quality version than that found on MySpace) is now available at the new music site Amie Street.

Amie Street is based on a pretty good idea, actually. For one thing it incentivizes musical curiosity -- "early adopters" of a particular song or album are "rewarded" by not having to pay top dollar for it (actually, on Amie Street there is no such thing as top dollar: the highest price any track can attain is 98 cents). The price rises with the track's popularity -- the more it is downloaded, the more it costs. As of this writing, "The Job Song" is up to a whopping 9 cents! (Hey, I just posted it on Monday.)

It seems to me that the motivation to listen works the other way as well... once a track has made it to the 98 cent mark, that might suggest (to a casual observer) that it has passed an early test of likeablity. (Not that the tracks who don't make it to the 98 cent mark are no good. From the artist's perspective, there is still a certain amount of luck involved here: one can only roll the dice and hope that the music will reach the sort of people who can enjoy it).

I dunno, it's all too new for me to be sure of the longer-term implications. But I sure do like any model that seems to be about empowering music fans.

* * * * *

And now: more than you can possibly want to know about the tune in question.

"The Job Song" was the first thing I wrote for the Evelyn Situation, the NJ-based spastic vocal ensemble I headed up back in the early nineties (this group also featured IJG singer Jill Knapp: for those of you who don't recognize her without the bee costume, she's the left-most head in the above promo shot). If I recall correctly, I brought it to the Evelyns sans title, and it was vocalist Donna Van Der Gaag (the middle head) who started calling it "The Job Song" -- a generic-but-quirky title that somehow stuck.

Since 1995, when Evelyn broke up and I moved to California, I have re-worked this fucker probably more than anything else I've written. The Evelyn arrangement was basically a full-on polka affair, of which a recording was made but never released. "Never," that is, until that group morphed into a studio project called Jay's Booming Hat. And when that studio project briefly morphed into a live JBH project, I arranged two other versions. So in all, there are four versions of this tune: the pure polka (circa 1993-1998), the moody acoustic version (1998), the arty jazz version (1999-2000), and the wacky jazz (IJG) version (2005-now). The latter is the version that will be released on LEEF, and which you can hear on Amie Street.

(Still following this?)

The IJG-ified version of "The Job Song" is characterized by some of the same tactics I have been bringing to bear in a lot of our other music. For one thing, it features two judiciously-placed musical quotes. There is the "Pomp and Circumstance" march that gets layered over the third verse (the verse that begins: "Having just finished school"), which results in all kinds of groovy harmonic tension. (BTW, am I the only one who feels that "P & C," though associated with graduation ceremonies, is actually more like a funeral dirge? I know, I know, it's in a major key, but if you've ever performed it, doesn't it always... seem... just... destined... to... slow... way... the... fuck... down...? Hard to imagine that the thing got two encores at its premiere.)

The other quote, which kicks in during the closing chaos, is from Beck's slacker anthem "Loser." I actually improvised this quote at the piano during a performance in San Francisco in 2006, and then edited it into the soprano parts shortly afterward (cuz no one can really hear the piano at the end of this tune). Aside from the Beck song's thematic parallels with the lyrical content of "The Job Song" (in different ways, they both express dissatisfaction with "the system," yeah?), the former (and all of Mellow Gold, actually) was one of those recordings that helped me mark my transition from New Jersey to LA in the mid 90s -- so quoting it helps to bridge the NJ and LA versions of "The Job Song," at least in my own mind.

And speaking of bridges: if you compare the IJG "Job Song" with the original, you may notice that the jazz waltz that kicks in at around 1:18 (in the IJG version) actually splits the song's "bridge" section in half. The bridge is the part that begins

Well don't you want to be like the people on TV
So bored and jaded and doing something that you have always hated?

After those lines, the bridge is cut off by the waltz. And only after the waltz is over do we get to hear the second half of the bridge:

Just give in -- how could it be a sin?
The big machine must keep on rolling on.

In part, this is me making fun of my own penchant for tightly-constructed bridges (tightly-constructed bridges were an obsession of mine during the Evelyn years). But the waltz is also logically placed, because it is meant to be an example of "something you have always hated." There's a certain amount of (affectionate) kidding going on here, but the idea is that the waltz is supposed to sound a bit corny, a bit too much like commercial, library jazz. This may make more sense if you consider that I wrote the waltz much earlier, sometime around 1988, when I was at Berklee (getting my first taste of what commercial/library jazz actually is). That piece was originally called "Waltz for Wanda," but when I played it with Jill in one of our pre-Evelyn bands, she dubbed it "Waltz for Weather," because of the way it sounded like background music for the Weather Channel. All of these seemed to me to be great reasons to resurrect the thing for a second (ironic) life within an IJG arrangement.

I guess underlying all this stuff is the question of humor. After the various jazz blogosphere threads on this subject over the last year or so, I'm still stuck thinking about what exactly constitutes musical humor for me. In this tune, some of it is obvious -- the lyrics, for instance -- or programmatic (the descending horn part just before each chorus is meant to sound like wicked laughter). Some of the humor is derived from things I have already mentioned, like the quotes (which are supposed to be surprising the first few times around). However, I suspect that these things are all "funny" (to the extent that they are) in relation to the "real world," or more specifically, in the case of the quotations, in relation to the associations that go along with already-existing music, and the ways those associations are juxtaposed with the thematic content of this tune.

But there is also the question of the ways in which music can be in and of itself funny, without reference to extra-musical concerns like satire or social context. To me, this sort of "inherently musical humor" (which I hear done so beautifully in the music of Zappa, Satie, Monk, Raymond Scott, Carla Bley) might have to do with (for instance) something as simple as the unexpected or (at first glance) "illogical" shape of a melody. In "The Job Song," forcing Jill to jump a full octave (and higher) on the word "job" in the chorus is, to me, fairly comical for exactly this reason (though I don't suppose Jill finds it too funny because it ain't the easiest thing in the world to sing). But there are better examples from my own music -- I'll get to them whenever I'm able to write about the other cuts on the new album (i.e., soon).

Another example of "inherent musical humor": introducing a simple idea and taking it to some absurd extreme, like the descent into noise at the end of this track, which probably doesn't really need to go on for as long as it does.

And speaking of going on too long, I'll shut up now.


M.Farina said...

I'm surprised that there are not more sites like "Amie Street" - or are there? I'm behind the curve...

Anyway, pleasure to "meet" you. I've been reading you for awhile now.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Yeah, there's a lot of Web 2.0 music-type stuff emerging -- I'm trying to explore it all as I gear up for the new release. Will post my experiences as I get more data...

Anyway, thanks for checking in!