Monday, September 10, 2007

In the Drugs

Sometimes you get so tired (cf. the sound of Bowie's voice during "Sometimes you get so lonely" in "Be My Wife"). I accidentally stabbed myself in the arm with a knife that was in the drying rack, trying to put a cup in the sink. I keep remembering this blog at night and forgetting it in the morning (I'll be better, I hope, now that I'm back at school and not working so much). I have to see people to talk about money. I have to see people to talk about school. I have to teach people. How can I teach people?

If there is a song by Low that functions like your mother giving you a hug, stroking your hair and saying "there, there" does, it is "In the Drugs." Which is utterly perverse. Gerry Beckley from America sings backing vocals. Marc Gartman provides pathologically spectral banjo (of all things). Bobby Woods plays organ and accordion. The song feels more syrupy than normal, but in a good way; the thick tone of the organ? The wonderfully fluted tones of Mimi's backing "ahhh ahhh"s (as opposed to her echoing Alan's lines)? The way that, twice, the banjo plucks slowly against the calm revolving of the voices? On the chorus Mimi stomps a few drum beats, but this is really about the accordion dipping low as "breaking like dolls / singing like birds / we always get what we deserve."

It's not sinister, for once. Any more than the Stoics were sinister. What you read into a phrase like "we always get what we deserve" is up to you, of course, but Alan sings it with a sad smile on his face, and Mimi breathes out the accompaniment like only someone who really loves their partner can manage. That one line, more than anything else probably, sums up what's wonderful and terrifying about the vocal bond between the two; how vividly the pulse of their life together seems to spring from that coo and sweep, how shockingly self-sufficient it seems.

I was a child
I was on fire
But I stayed alive while all else died

How is that not stark and foreboding like dozens of other Low songs? How did they summon up the plush, loving regret that turns that opening into sanctuary and resilience (albeit muted), not warning or reproach? Is there some hidden resonance with Beckley's inextricable backing tones? The unutterably mournful pause for organ/accordion near the end, does that transform things? The banjo shouldn't work. Especially with all that reverb (Tchad friggin' Blake, after all) and especially airdropped in so rarely. The verse/chorus melody is one of their sweetest, to be fair, but still. What alchemy pastes over the oblique, fragmented, probably meaningless lyrics? Why do I find myself turning to "In the Drugs" for comfort again and again?

I held my breath
What could I say
And I closed my eyes like Marvin Gaye
But now I've had enough

And Trust is indeed where Alan has had enough. God only knows who "You had your plan / A heavy hand," but the use of the the singular for plan makes me wonder. When did Marvin Gaye close his eyes? When he was shot by his (F)ather? Josh Rouse's "Marvin Gaye," from his album Home, is similarly cryptic. There is so no other song on Trust at all like "In the Drugs." I am not sure this anything else like it on any Low album. There are better songs on Trust, more beautiful ones. But none circle around the sad knowing/loving of this one and "we always get what we deserve," the moment of stillness that succeeds that line until Mimi pitches upwards again into "ahhhs" and they play the chorus with the subtlest possible muscle.

The line is supposed to be "It's in the drugs," repeated four or five times, and that seems to be what Mimi (and Beckley?) is singing. But most of the time, Alan sounds as if he is singing instead "It's in my drugs." Another clue. Or another resonance. Or nothing. I'd like to think I can still mostly be sort of objective about Low's music, but not this song. It means everything; as Tal Rosenberg at Stylus said once, "I've always been a firm believer that the best art somehow gives us a beautiful, vivid, and yet still vague impression of life and its meaning." He was talking abot a novel, or maybe a movie, but I feel that way here. To try and reduce the complexity of what I feel when I listen to "In the Drugs," how I feel lifted and comforted whether I was down or not, is to do the song violence, to mutilate it while cramming it into language. It is sufficient, and although I know not everyone would agree with me on this song, I hope to whatever God or Gods you have that you've heard something that does that for you as powerfully.


Inverarity said...

I *love* the wryly amused exhaustion of Alan's vocal. The Marvin Gaye reference is puzzling but thrilling. The banjo is also A++ would listen again. I like the characterization of the sound as syrupy - I never thought of it that way, but that's exactly it.

The pause after "we always get what deserve" is heartstopping.

And what a great way to link "The Lion" and "Last Snowstorm of the Year", too.

Inverarity said...

Also, and I know I've asked this before, but why on earth isn't Trust at the top of the Low stack, critically speaking? It's one of their most dangerous and moving albums.

Ian said...

I'm afraid that my explanation of why Trust is regarded as a lesser album is a pretty pessimistic one... it's not comforting, or even surface-comforting, the way the two albums that preceded it were, and while I would never call those records "just" pretty people tended to take them that way. You can't do that with Trust.

I also have to confess I've been a bit remiss in terms of looking at these tracks' place in the albums they come from, and I really regret that here. Because you're right - it's kind of mind boggling to consider that "The Lamb" and "Last Snowstorm of the Year" are just one track apart, and even more so that such a rapid (well, relatively) juxtaposition actually works.