Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Geniuses? You Make the Call

What do you do when you have a severe case of writer's block? You post a bunch of videos and crap on the internet. I saw a movie the other day called "The Devil and Daniel Johnston." Johnston was an underground singer/songwriter sensation of the 1980s. He was also deeply disturbed. He is considered by many to be a genius.

Watching the film, I couldn't help but think "Genius? Really?" It's not that the guy didn't have talent; he could write a catchy tune and evoke certain feelings, but I would hardly call the guy a genius. His songs were simplistic and kind of all the same, sounding to me like the Magnetic Fields trying to evoke John Lennon. Plus, his live performances were painfully awkward. Johnston could barely play the guitar, and was often off-beat and his lispy singing looked more like something out of a talent show for "special" people. Yet every crowd that ever saw Johnston whooped and hollered no matter what he did, like cheering for the little leaguer who strikes out on three straight pitches by yelling "nice swing!"

The label of genius is thrown around a lot, especially in music. It got me thinking about who I consider to be the best songwriters in my record collection. I decided to throw up a few videos of five of my favorite songwriters. Check out some of the songs and some of the cool videos if you get a chance.

SUFJAN STEVENS This guy is incredibly prolific, and though he gets a little too precocious sometimes, I think he is a top-notch songcrafter.

"Jacksonville" I can't begin to express how much I love this song.

"The Avalanche" Another really beautiful Sufj masterpiece.


IRON AND WINE His first album -- The Creek Drank the Cradle -- is one of my top 5 albums of all time. Every single track is a masterpiece, and here are two of them.

"Southern Anthem" Something beautiful and rustic about this song. The video is a bit pretentious, but it doesn't detract.

"Upward Over the Mountain" Something about this song puts me on the verge of tears almost every time I hear it.


PAVEMENT/STEPHEN MALKMUS There is something about this band and about S.Malk I just love. The sarcasm, the turn of a phrase, the prototype "indie" sound.

"Spit on a Stranger" One of the catchier Pavement tunes, very poppy and fun.

"The Hexx"


STEELY DAN/BECKER & FAGAN Probably my favorite band of all time. I would put their catalog (up to and including Gaucho) up against any other.

"Black Friday" No this isn't about the day after Thanksgiving, it's about the apocalypse. And it's still such a fun tune.

"The Royal Scam" This isn't an official video, but with the lyrics it's actually more powerful than I expected it to be.

"Don't Take Me Alive" A pretty awesome song about a guy who's about to blow himself up. Not too shabby.

Also check out videos for "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" and "Caves of Altamira."


THE SHINS/JAMES MERCER These guys are a bit spotty, I must admit, and while I do like their new album (Wincing the Night Away), I love Chutes Too Narrow almost too much to express. Other than "Gone For Good," I am in love with every single track on the album.

"Pink Bullets" Mellow and reflective. Nice.

"Saint Simon" Laid back, yet with authority.

"So Says I" Rollicking. Plus, a pretty awesome video about penguins and communism.


I made a mix CD a little over a year ago, and I thought it had some pretty obscure stuff on it, but I found a few of the videos on YouTube so I'm not quite the hipster I thought I was. You might like these, you might not.

Rosewood Thieves
"Los Angeles" Trying to evoke the Beatles in this video; their song "Lonesome Road" is even better.

The Long Winters
"Blue Diamonds" The video on this one is mega-cheesy but I like the song a lot.

"Pyramid Song" Purists hate electronic Radiohead, but this is a classic.

Gordon Lightfoot
"Canadian Railroad Trilogy" Long as hell but awesome.

Ben Folds
"Learn to Live with What you Are" Kind of disappointed that Old Ben decided to make a jokey video out of this song, because I thought it was kind of powerful in a self-help sort of way. But the video is kind of funny after all.

"Beast and Dragon, Adored" Rocking song, and David Cross does some sign language/interpretive dance to the side. This was clearly taken with a cameraphone.

Dead Kennedys
"Holiday in Cambodia" Two offerings: one concert video with Jello Biafra going apeshit, and another video with better sound and disturbing images of the Khmer Rouge.

1 comment:

DG Dunford said...

I don't know that I subscribe to the Daniel Johnston is a genius school, but I will say that two of my absolute favorite songs/renditions of songs are Wilco's version of "True Love Will Find You In The End" and the Eels' take on "Living Life," both of which are Johnston songs. I find his take on both tinny and rote, but there's obviously something there that is something more substantial than, say, Wesley Willis.

Glad to see you writing some more.