Random thoughts, settings, characters, situations, perhaps leading somewhere

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Snapsongs: “You Don’t Know How It Feels” by Tom Petty

Friday 28 February 2014 - Filed under Snapsongs

When you’re stuck in a musty filing office running credit cards for the Accounts/Receivable department of a high-tech equipment manufacturer, there’s not a whole lot you can say about the situation. So you tend to try to focus on the positive. Nobody bothered me much, the invoice printer would loudly do my job for me, and I could explore this new thing called The Internet without too much fuss. When I was able to download a map of the Cologne subway system to help me place the characters’ movements in the Euroslacker novella I was writing, I was sold.

But running credit cards had to be done on the swipe machine, which was over by the phone jack on the other side of the room, so I had a portable CD player, borrowed from my roommate, to entertain me while I was waiting for the charges to be accepted. “Wildflowers” had just come out, and it was something of a revelation. Rick Rubin, of all people, had helmed Tom Petty’s solo project, and the audio landscape he created was something to be analyzed. I was thinking about music, about playing bass, and about recording, and I needed a template to examine. Through the brown smoked plastic of the CD player, the disc spun and I listened, thoughtfully, attentively, inquisitively.

“Wildflowers” was a recording that I would say was the first I ever encountered that finally answered the question posed by digital recording: what does one do with this cold, glassy perfection? You use the clear highs to expand the aural space; you use the lack of crosstalk to firmly fix instrument locus; you warm up your stacks of tubes to add just that little touch of fuzz and glow to these carefully-placed players; you use your immaculate control of EQ and frequency response to slot the various tracks into their proper positions in the auditory spectrum. It was both digital and analog, it was both warm and clean, and it was a pleasure to listen to. The very sparse and minimalist approach that Petty took to songwriting made these decisions even more appropriate. Finally, the technology had matured from its tinny, thin, fragile and frigid beginnings into something beautiful and compelling.

And “You Don’t Know How It Feels” was a talisman for that time. Cool, smoky, minimal, with a touch of Hammond, some phased chorus, sonic Easter Eggs, stripped-down beat and simple vocals, it was Tom Petty doing what he does best. It was a song for driving down to see my parents in San Antonio, it was a song to cruise through a twisty Farm-to-Market road on the way to work, it was a song to contemplate how I was actually going to fill my space. Was it through writing? Was it through music? Was it through photography? Was it through something I hadn’t thought of before? The future was as unclear as the CD spinning in the player, and I was trying as best I could to read the song titles through the dusk.

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2014-02-28  »  Edward Semblance