Sad Ass Songs – Brandon Brown
Sad Ass Songs is a weekly column where I ask some of my favorite writers to tell me about their favorite sad songs. They send me songs and then I send them questions and then I post their answers here and then we all cry a little bit.
This week I talked with Brandon Brown, the author of Top 40 (Roof Books, 2014), because when a person writes a really good book about pop music, you probably have to interview them for this thing.
The Song: “Tuesday” by ILOVEMAKONNEN (featuring Drake)
MC: OK, then defend this song//this guy’s voice to the guy at the club who grew up listening to M.O.P.
BB: Ha ha. Nah. I mean, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m at a point in my dotage where I don’t really want to defend songs or voices. If you don’t like it for whatever reason, I get it. I find myself trying to be more defensive about things (songs, poems, books, whatever) that I don’t like. As anybody who’s read Carl Wilson’s magnificent Journey To The End of Taste, probably the best book ever written about Celine Dion, knows, sustained dedication to what it is you think you hate provides you with all sorts of nuance and problems.
Likewise, “Tuesday” is an absolutely joyous text. Just read the lyrics (http://genius.com/
Obviously, it’s the whole sonic structure of the tune that suggests a sad and tragic experience, not the message of the tune at all, but I see what you’re getting at. Tears of a clown, I guess? Or the laughter of a wretch? I’m flirting with the idea just now that the sad passion of how “Tuesday” sounds is actually a perverse and slightly ironic way to augment his brag. It’s like, I’m in the club on a Tuesday, I’m with your girl, my drugs are out of sight, and I’m not even happy about it (whereas you would probably be elated.)
I’m glad you think of me as such an optimist Mark, but I guess what I’d have to say is that almost everything that constitutes the earth is shit and then you have friends and songs. Which is why I’m not a nihilist—I believe in the extraordinary power of love, friendship, singing, stories. And I feel like “Tuesday” really speaks to the situation we’re in—it’s almost like that amazing Rod Smith poem about being too tired to overthrow the government.
MC: I love the idea of the “Perfect Day” genre. Do you think your poetry ever fits in that category? I think it does some//a lot of the time.
BB: That’s interesting. I mean, first of all, let me just be clear that I am not so hubristic as to think that any poem of mine is remotely on the scale of greatness of “Perfect Day” or “Tuesday!”
I’m an ordinary person I guess, and so any jubilation or melancholy in my poems is profoundly ordinary I think. I am, however, interested in what I like to call strong ambivalence. I’m interested in weak ambivalence too, which is the normal kind. The etymological root of “ambivalence” almost means the opposite of how we mean the word: it means “feeling very strongly in two different directions” while our word “ambivalence” means “not even feeling strongly enough to really care between two different options.”
And, again, weak ambivalence is super interesting, as an almost omnipresent register of the contemporary. But I think a lot of Top 40 is actually about strong ambivalence. Like how you can actually hate everything about the spectacular economy in which pop has to be produced, distributed, and exchanged, and be completely in love with said song. It’s sort of a classic odi et amo problem—poetry has taken this up as well.
MC: OK, quasi related to this whole interview—there’s this quote in Top 40 that I love: “Pop excels at narrating catastrophes like earthquakes, death, and meeting someone you instantly love, the events that bring about the feeling that everything has suddenly changed.” When I read that, I thought, yeah, so does poetry. Does poetry ever do that for you?
BB: Thanks Mark! I mean, yeah. I think poetry can be pretty good for moments. I mean, moments. Like fuck Kodak, but those moments. I’ve been reading a lot about the rococo and there’s this interview I just read with Phillip Sollers about libertinage. There’s all this fucked up stuff that he says in the interview, but one thing I sort of liked was that he described rococo painting as being good at moments, good at portraying the unpredictable and unstable economics of moments. I’m really interested in our temporal fictions—the nine hours of the work day as opposed to nine hours of free time. How these are supposed to be the same. And moments are terrific exemplars of these fictions.
And then of course pop songs and poems are both objects that are concerned with rhythm, another, maybe the best, temporal fiction there is. So the fact that they both so often address themselves to questions of time might just be obvious.
MC: When was the last time you cried? What were you crying about?
BB: I made this joke last year about how Friday Night Lights was sponsored by Kleenex. I thought it was pretty funny! But it’s hard to remember the last time I cried because I’m always tearing up and crying. I am especially vulnerable to cinema and television, and classical music. I recently read a bunch of novels by Toni Morrison and all of those made me cry at different times. On the other hand, I hardly ever cry about my personal life even though there’s a fair amount to cry about—I think that’s probably the result of a lot of disgusting sex socialization.
Listen to the whole playlist right here: