“Randy Described Eternity”

After I got a little box for ripping vinyl onto my laptop, I started pulling out music that had been gathering dust on a custom-built shelf thirteen inches high and situated above the door in little elf’s room. Soon after that, supermum got nervous about the sheer weight of solid black petroleum by-product sitting above the frail little body of our princess and my records were promoted to a book case opposite our bedroom door which, coincidentally, happened to have shelves thirteen inches high and thirteen inches deep. Every morning, I stagger out of our of our room and can – if I choose – contemplate some thirty three years of my life compiled randomly into a space about five feet by one foot one by one foot four.

Note that long playing records spin at thirty three rpm.

The fourth or fifth record I copied was Built To Spill’s “Perfect From Now On” and the first song is called ‘Randy Described Eternity.’

It starts tentatively with a frail scaffolding of a riff, or a suggestion of a riff, and a slightly queasy offbeat that gathers itself into something more decisive without letting go of that odd lack of balance. It’s a riff that perfectly and appropriately evokes the sense of someone endlessly falling into a void. The bass takes the lead and starts to push this little riff into something approaching grandeur. But a tentative grandeur, grandeur in the dark carefully placing its feet one small step at a time.

Finally, the singing arrives. It’s like a steadier, even more nasal approximation of Neil Young’s whine. The melody is almost a chant. Doug (the singer is called Doug) sings

Every 1000 years
A giant metal sphere
10 times the size of Jupiter
Floats just a few yards past the earth

The off-beats become more decisive, the scaffolding weaves into a regular silvery Guggenheim. There’s more than a feel of Crazy Horse developing but this band are more limber. Throw something at them and they’ll duck as one.

You climb on your roof and take a swipe at it
Hit it once every thousand years
With a single feather
`Til you’ve worn it down to the size of a pea

So now we know it’s Randy telling us a story. This is how long eternity is, he says. The music is weightless now and the guitars, layer upon layer, are taking off.

Yeah I’d say that’s a long time
But it’s only half a blink
In the place you’re gonna be
Where you gonna be?
Where will you spend eternity

There’s a threat here. Do you ever think about eternity? Are we talking to the Bible salesmen at the door, the Zen monk on his mountain or the regular at the bar? What was the name of that man in ‘Cheers’? This is what he’d say. Or Homer Simpson.

I’m gonna be perfect from now on
I’m gonna be perfect starting now
stop making that sound
stop making that sound
I will say I forgot but it was only yesterday and it’s all you had to say

Stop making that sound. The song that seeks to silence itself. After the last line, there’s a little hush and a few bars of plangent guitar, joined by a reedy little organ. Then a wah solo starts to build from the heart of the mix. But it never arrives. Instead, things move into a kind of locked groove, layering and layering like the ribbons on a maypole but widening.

The word I’m probably looking for is ‘gyre’.

‘Cliff’, that was the guy’s name. Here’s a life performance.

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About Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

Writing, reading, listening, parenting... On Twitter as @dadwhowrites. View all posts by Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

15 responses to ““Randy Described Eternity”

  • Dara

    Forwarding this post to my hubby. I have a feeling you are now our mutual new best friend.
    “Gyre” – love it.
    I’ve not heard their music before, though I’m sure hubby has. Thanks for enlightening me!

  • Rol

    You did a great job of building that track up so that I had to hit Play. Liked it. Now I aim to track it down.

  • Darrell

    Hi,

    I am dropping you a note, on the recommendation of my wife, Dara. I hate being called “hubby,” by the way, and I have told her so. So to bring you into our petty squabbles.

    I enjoyed reading your comment on this song by Built to Spill; thank-you for sharing your thoughts, and they made me want to look them up on Last.fm. I do like their music, and I find it similar to a lot of the other moody, atmospheric music by groups of which I’m so fond — I recommend Gregor Samsa, you might like them. Also Immanu El, maybe Richmond Fontaine as well…

    Anyway, I just want to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed your writing. Dara has directed me toward it a couple of times now. ‘Resisting Fatherhood’ was quite moving, and I can identify with it.

    One of your new fans,

    Darrell Squires

  • Darrell Squires

    Hi,

    No I have not — but I will, on your recommendation.

    By the way, here is a track that began running through my head not long after I listened to Built to Spill’s ‘Randy…” It’s ‘Dar he Drone’ by American dark folk artist Jay Munly. I think you will like this aural glimpse of the void: http://www.last.fm/music/Jay%2520Munly/_/Dar%2520He%2520Drone?ac=dar%20he%20drone

    Best Regards,

    Darrell

  • bsouth

    Like it.

    I was only allowed to listen to a couple of minutes as apparently I’m interrupting Waybuloo (nothing wrong with that in my book – they need educating in good music, not bloody narabugs) but I will definitely go back to it later.

  • Ally

    Firstly, thank you again for introducing me to more fantastic music.

    Secondly: “But a tentative grandeur, grandeur in the dark carefully placing its feet one small step at a time.”

    Sometimes, your descriptions make me woozy. Thank you.

  • Sarah A,

    Ah, the kids and I were just listening to this earlier today. It’s beautiful spring morning music. I’m glad I found your site here…it’s pretty much everything I love in a blog (gorgeous writing, kid stuff, David Berman quotes, random pictures of grass.) Have a lovely afternoon!

  • J

    The period between me having enough money to buy records and CDs overtaking them was short, so my records are a brief period in time. Maybe 5 years. So looking at my records is quite the flashback for me. We have a record player that rips albums into mp3s as well, and I always enjoy digging out an old album and listening to it anew.

    And, by the way, your writing is gorgeous.

  • drawingdad

    I hadn’t heard this song before. Good stuff. I’ve got a Built To Spill CD around somewhere, must dig it out and give it a good listen.

    I love the way you wrote about it. You certainly know your music. Have you ever considered being a music writer (as well as a writer of fiction, of course)?

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