A blog devoted to the works of Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, The Gothic Archies, et al. This blog will feature news related to his work, as well as occasional fanboy gushes from the author. Thank you for stopping by, and may all your dreams come true.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reviews of the film

What with all the screenings of Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, there's been a myriad of reviews that have gone unmentioned on Aging Spinsters, mostly because they're about a paragraph long and rarely offer new insight into the film.  As one of the few Stephinfans who hasn't seen the film and has no solidified plans to do so in the foreseeable future, this has been frustrating to say the least.  But, there seems to have been an influx of decent reviews in the past days.

Letters Have No Arms offers brief summation of some key scenes, most notably Stephin's surefire method to annoy Germans and his absolutely fabulous description of Claudia ("As other people go, she's okay.").  Plus, they have a few very cool photos posted, including the one seen here.  The Boston Phoenix describes the film as "the most penetrating portrait of Merritt to date," which is cool, certainly, but isn't saying a whole lot.

Thus far, all the negative reviews have focused on the film's lack of dramatic impact, and the reviews from Panic Manual and Toronto Screen Shots aren't exceptions (though the former repeatedly calls Ms. Claudia Gonson "Cynthia," so it's harder for me to take it 100% seriously).  If anything, though, this kind of talk is only making me more excited for the film!  Just a little glimpse into that world is all I ask of it, and every review says that is primarily what the film offers.

If there are any readers who have seen the film (ahem), I'd certainly love for you to post your thoughts on the film.  I'd love to hear what you all have to say about it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An excellent interview, and some Molly Ringwald

The Examiner has posted this brief but excellent interview with Stephin Merritt regarding 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  It features this mindblowingly exciting quote:

"Something cyberpunk, I guess: It couldn't really have existed till this year, but in a subtle way. My score is a musicalization, where the dialog is vaguely lip-synched by live singers, and there are songs about the movie, and then sound effects appropriate to an old science fiction film."

The fact that I won't be seeing this makes me so, so sad.  Songs about the movie?  Live singerS?  PLURAL?  Sounds like Mr. Merritt is in top form here.  It makes me wonder what the likelihood of an eventual DVD release really would be; I hope with a hope stronger than hope that one will arise.

Also, the very beautiful Molly Ringwald has plenty of nice things to say about Mr. Merritt, Kiki and Herb, and countless other things here.  Apparently, Mr. Merritt told her she would be good in the role of the Other Mother in Coraline.  What a world!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Seattle Performance of 20,000 Leagues

A performance of Stephin Merritt's score to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at the Paramount Theater in Seattle has just been announced!!  The performance will take place on June 9th; tickets are $25 and can be purchased here starting this Friday.

Needless to say, I am very excited about the potential prospect of more performances of this piece.  Seattle and San Francisco are both too far away from me for me to get overly excited, but my fingers are crossed for more announcements.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More screenings, Daniel Handler event

I've added some screenings of the documentary to the sidebar over there to the right.  Most interesting, by far, is the one at the Bell House in Brooklyn on May 5th.  Apparently, Ms. Claudia Gonson will be introducing the film with an autobiographical musical monologue.  Intriguing to say the least.  Oh, how I hope that thing finds its way to Youtube.

Mr. Daniel Handler will be part of a reading for the upcoming book You're a Horrible Person, But I Like You: The Believer Book of Advice, a book of bad advice to which Mr. Handler is a contributor.  Information can be found here.

A wonderful band I'd not previously heard before named Br'er did a cover of "Irma," which can be found on their Myspace.  You can download the song here.  The band's other music comes highly recommended from this blogger as well.  Thanks very much to Mr. Benjamin Schurr for creating some really lovely tunes and for pointing me in the direction of said tunes.

And, hell, it's totally worth mentioning that Insound shipped my copy of the 69 Love Songs vinyl box!!  I am, needless to say, very excited.

I will be leaving up the "Like a Snowman" file until this coming Wednesday.  Snatch it up while you can.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Like A Snowman

"My idol, Irving Berlin, wrote “White Christmas,” which is the best-selling song of all time—likely to remain so. So, when I think, “What shall I do today?” I inevitably think, “What would Irving do?” And sometimes, it’s “Write a Christmas song.”"

Stephin Merritt is consistently labeled, no-doubt to his consistent chagrin, as a singer/songwriter, but it's important to remember that the emphasis of his modus operandi is on the latter part of that label.  On recording Odetta, Stephin said that he felt as if she had taken his song ("Waltzing Me All the Way Home" from The 6ths' Hyacinths & Thistles) and "catapulted it into the stratosphere" like he had never seen before.  And, while we all no-doubt love Mr. Merritt's voice, this comment paired with the above quote makes for a rather poignant collection of thoughts.

Amongst the most stratosphere-catapulted songs in Mr. Merritt's songbook is "Like a Snowman," written for the fabulous Kiki and Herb's Broadway show.  Much like the first half of The Wayward Bus is about Phil Spector songs, I've always felt like "Like a Snowman" was written more about "White Christmas" than Christmas itself.  But, that performance?  It feels almost detached from Mr. Merritt's sensibilities in some ways, and is wholly a Kiki and Herb song.  It takes place in their world, and they blow it out of the water in their own ways.  Though the songwriting is wholly that of Mr. Merritt's (and feels as such throughout), the song is funneled through and ultimately made whole by Kiki and Herb.

Absolutely one of the greatest aspects of Mr. Merritt's work is its eccentricity, and this comment is not made solely in regards to genre experimentation.  Mr. Merritt's songs are at once artistic statements and catchy pop songs, and can be viewed from as many angles as there are listeners.  "Like a Snowman," of course, is no exception in that it is an absolutely lovely Christmas song, but it's also a heartbreaking story of love once had.  Kenny Mellman singing "I'll give you everything, my love" never fails to send a shiver down my spine.  Justin Bond inhabits entirely the character of the song and one can feel years of unreal forlorn, bittersweet, aching love oozing from that croon, particularly on that extended "snooooowman" at the tail end of the song.

Mr. Merritt did write another Christmas song for Kiki and Herb, which was discussed briefly in the comments of the previous post.  It is entitled "You Should See It in the Snow."  To sum up, I know little about the song, other than that it was written about 9/11 and performed at their Broadway show.  I expressed interest in e-mailing Kenny Mellman about the song, but then I realized that in order to do such a thing, one would need Mr. Mellman's e-mail address.  So, instead, if any of you all know anything about the song, I'd love to hear it.

Anyhow, I've uploaded "Like a Snowman."  I'm only leaving this up for a couple of days because, really, I encourage everyone to buy the CD upon which it was released.  It benefits AIDS research and I doubt there are many greater causes to benefit in the world today; not to mention you're remunerated with at least one absolutely beautiful song.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Recently, a reader of this blog asked me to transcribe the lyrics to The Magnetic Fields' "Amensia."  In so doing, I found myself thinking a lot about the song, perhaps more than I had before.  Particularly, of course, its lyrics, some of which I found myself struggling to decipher.  Here is my transcription:

You mustn't put the Sun in your mouth
She's the filthiest girl in the world
She gets really dirty when she sets in the south
Y'know, she can't help it she's a Chelsea girl

Oh, yeah

My father's house gave birth to a car
That could burrow like a mole underground
It woke up the neighbors when it cried in the night
Y'know, baby cars can make an awful sound

And induce

Medusa turned her banker to stone
And she pilfered the keys to his car
She's driving cross country, but wherever she goes
She turns worthless people into modern art

Just like that

Many thanks once more to Mr. Nick David for amending my original transcription of these lyrics.  

I adore this song.  I have from the moment I first heard that jangly guitar intro and the fun little splat of a guitar before Stephin's last utterance of the word "amnesia" so many years ago.  I think its surrealist imagery lends itself more toward Susan Anway-era Magnetic Fields and I'd love to hear "Kings" fade out and for this song to emerge, but I'm magnanimously grateful for the skeletal version that does exist.  It provides a strange context for a period of The Magnetic Fields' career that I have unfortunately only been able to read about as opposed to truly having experienced it.

Stephin Merritt, of course, disagrees with all of my bullshit.  Quoth Chickfactor magazine:

"I recently downloaded, from disgusting evil website n*****r, a crummy bootleg recording of an embarrassingly awful live performance of an unreleased song of mine, labeled without any indication it wasn't from a record.  This is going out all over the world, under my name, and there seems to be nothing I can do about it.  I have spontaneously performed works in progress for my audience when it seemed appropriate, prefaced by a little apology spiel, but for someone to just steal that, take it out of context, and put it up on the web is a real, major betrayal.  It has done such damage to my relations with audiences-my sense of trust is shattered-that I can't perform unreleased songs anymore."

This gives the song so much more history and effect, I think.  Of course, one can hardly find reason to disagree with Mr. Merritt here (and one now understands why I have yet to link to a mp3 of the song), but it is a shame that he is embarrassed by it so.  I understand that their live shows at the time might not have felt conducive to proper reproductions of his songs (though, all the boots I've heard/seen have been lovely), but I will always find "Amnesia" to be a wonderfully pleasant song.  For the breech of trust, I am sincere in my apology to Mr. Merritt, but selfishly happy for the song's existence.

Also, while you're here, go read this review of Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields!