June 5, 2014
Book Notes - Marc Spitz "Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film"
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Marc Spitz's new book Twee explores the Twee movement from its post World War II roots to present across a variety of art forms and beyond.
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
In his own words, here is Marc Spitz's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film:
There are a lot of songs here, so let me crack open my can of ginger ale and get to it. I should start by saying that my book, Twee, does not fully redefine the word, which has, historically been pejorative; suggesting a certain annoying, effeminate, overly delicate type of preciousness. It will not likely change this perception either but perhaps widen it or convince some readers to see elements of these qualities as assets or even revolutionary tools (a lack of clichéd masculinity is, for example not necessary to be "punk"… Simon Reynolds called the movement, back when it was called "Cutie" or "C-86" and also "Twee" a "revolt into childhood). Sometimes a little reminder of childhood is needed and occasionally preciousness can result in a more durable and eco-conscious product (your Etsy knitted narwhal will last forever!). Finally, I wish to separate my Twee playlist from the type of Twee (or Cutie or C 86) that the aforementioned Brits have known for three decades. Yes, there is some jangly pop on here, played by bands fronted by 60s movie star-obsessed women and men in anoraks, staring at their scuffed trainers, but not, you know… only just. The Beatles had their Twee period (post-touring). So did the Beach Boys (post indoor sandbox) and the Stones (well, "Lady Jane" anyway). Speaking of, I am deliberately omitting songs from the three bands that are referred to in the book (perhaps regrettably) as The Tweetles – Belle and Sebastian, They Might Be Giants, and of course, The Smiths. R.E.M. were heading for this plateau up until about 1988 (Stipe's overcoat and hair in the eyes, mumble phase). Those three bands could simply overtake a list like this like a school of snake fish in an eco-sound river and there'd be no room for Close Lobsters (who are not on this list but "Nature Thing" rocks). I am also leaving out most songs from movies, "Moon River," from Breakfast At Tiffany's , "When You Wish Upon A Star," from Pinnochio, "The Sound of Silence," from The Graduate, "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out," from Harold and Maude, "New Slang," from Garden State, "Canned Heat" from Napoleon Dynamite (just kidding) and "Anyone Else But You" from Juno, even though all of those films and more are covered in the book, as are fashion, TV, stand up and even a little food. It's my first book that's not across the board rock and I'm proud of that, but this is the rock that's in it and helped make it happen. I hope you enjoy some of the tracks that I played while writing it (and wrote about while playing them).
"Pretty Ballerina" - The Left Banke – Most people know "Walk Away Renee" more but "Pretty Ballerina" is just as gorgeous and stuck in my head longer than any other song on this list or a list I could make that's three times as long. It hits the 60s Twee pop Trifecta: a sort of bedroom sadness ("Somewhere a mountain is moving, afraid it's moving without me!"), meticulous Baroque craftsmanship and (relative, given their more popular other single) obscurity.
"We're Going to Be Friends" – The White Stripes - Jack White has his Twee moments (I once saw him hush a mosh pit so he could finish a Marlene Dietrich cover) but the inclusion of this one does not mean I think the White Stripes were Twee. It's an example of a band who we identify as muscular having a gentle, and affecting, backwards looking moment. I would include Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain" in here and even Stevie's "I Wish." You could probably add a few more.
"Christmastime is Here (with vocals)" – Vince Guaraldi Trio - Yes! I know I said that I would not include songs closely associated with movies but to be fair, when you think of Wes Anderson films, you usually think of British invasion songs like "Making Time" by the Creation or "A Quick One (While He's Away") rather than this gentle, charming, wintry jazz. Anderson uses this in The Royal Tenenbaums and I believe "Skating" in an early cut of Bottle Rocket and helped re-popularize the VGT that you won't find a December without them on any self respecting dive bar jukebox.
"Here's Where the Story Ends" – The Sundays - If I had a nickel for every mix tape I closed with this song, I would start my own publishing company and not have to write lists like this (just kidding this is good fun). "People I know, places I go, make me feel tongue tied…" Has Morrissey written a better couplet about shyness? I can't believe Harriet Wheeler is in her 50s. I still picture her holding up the wall in some JD Salinger perma-world somewhere (some horrible mixer probably) as the ice in her drink melts.
"I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives" – The Television Personalities - I would place this here for the bird calls alone. A Twee person loves nothing more than a dead, (or obscure, or missing or haunted to the point of career paralysis) icon and at the time of this release (1981 I believe) the cult of Syd, the blank, dark eyed but still gorgeous psychedelic astro-poet was building and building thanks in part to a brilliant article by Nick Kent (whom I was lucky enough to interview for my book). Today, writing a song about Syd would be like writing a song about Nick Drake or Richey Manic (i.e. predictable) but at the time, it was revolutionary. And few did know where the fuck the poor old chap was.
"I'm A Little Airplane" – Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - Some people prefer the surlier first Modern Lovers (with future members of The Cars and The Talking Heads). Others have a (very) soft spot for Mach 2. When I started the book, I was in the former but the doo wop, sweet as ginger candy Jonathan charmed me, just like he charmed the confounded punks who expected "Roadrunner" and "She Cracked" back in '77 on their European tour and got "Ice Cream Man" instead (good stories about that in my book). I like this one because you can still hear a little bit of his Lou Reed sneer, something he all but gave up, when he does the "whangedy whang!" bit.
"I Could Be Happy" _ Altered Images - Kind of self explanatory. Perfect pop. Best phased/jangly and danceable intro ever and on top of it all, it's a lie! Could Clare ever really be happy? Even on her birthday in a hot bath? Points for granting me an interview and participating in the sweetest movie ending ever shot (Gregory's Girl… check it).
"Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Professor Cole, also nice enough to have a chat with me about Glasgow in the 80s, was my teacher in 1984. I did not, you see, know who Arthur Lee was and I also did not know who Normal Mailer was. I was 14 and ignorant as well about Renata Adler (who inspired "Speedboat") and Joan Didion (who gave the entire Rattlesnakes album its title). This ballad, however is still his finest hour and according to Lloyd they knew it as soon as they wrote the thing.
"Lee Remick" – The Go-Betweens – These beloved Brisbanians should have gotten the Ivor Novello award and a special Grammy for the lyric "She was in The Omen with Gregory Peck/She got killed but what the heck?"
I also try to put this on every mix tape I ever make because it's short and because it's wonderful. I was always more of an Elizabeth Montgomery person but now, I too love Lee Remick (she's a darling).
"Hangman" – Beat Happening – I was directing a play last year and one of my actor friends, a tough, hard drinking, Sam Shepard pirate/biker of a man asked who sang "That hangman song," we were using on the soundtrack some nights. When I told him it was Beat Happening and not the Birthday Party or Iggy or the Cramps or some murder ballad, he was gobsmacked as they say. I also love how Calvin can make really innocent songs too, songs about crushes and picnics sound tough as this shit, which is some tough shit. He is in the book, after many, many attempts to get him to say yes… here's an example of how these attempts sounded:
MARC: Hi Calvin.
MARC: Listen, I am writing a book.
CALVIN: (longer silence)
MARC: I'd really love to talk to you for it.
CALVIN (still longer silence/very deep voice) Why?
"Tonight You Belong To Me" – Steve Martin/Bernadette Peters – Again I am breaking my no songs from films rule but this is the sweetest, funniest seduction scene in cinema history and without Steve Martin there would be no Twee comedy, period. Nancy Sinatra does a good version of this and so does Zooey Deschanel (surprise) and Ben Schwartz (I haven't heard Cat Power and Eddie Vedder's take). Uke-chic begins here. And trumpet chic.
"Rory Rides Me Raw" – The Vaselines – This is my favorite Vaselines song because of its drive and its dirty, playful lyrics and how they come together as a kind of sex drone but I feel a little guilty because I watched all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls while writing this book and now when I hear it I can only think of is Rory Gilmore being defiled somehow and that simply does not play in Stars Hollow, motherfuckers.
"Tripping Wires" – Velocity Girl - Back in the Nirvana days, it was nice to have a break from all the heavy guitar rock and Jon Spencer and GBV and even Pavement's Fall-isms and listen to something I suppose you would call lilting. I still have a fondness for this one and not only because the band named itself for a Primal Scream songs from back when they were C-86.
"Sliver" – Nirvana – There is a chapter in the book on why Nirvana is Twee and it's not named after a a song or lyric from Nevermind (it's named after a song or lyric from Bleach). I do not rely entirely on this single as evidence either. I do, however, compare Kurt to the Little Prince and I quote other journos who compare him to Winnie the Pooh. I talk of course about his run through Olympia and K Records land, his love for Shonen Knife and the Raincoats, but really if I WANTED to use this song alone as my argument I'd have a good shot at winning.
‘Sunlight Bathed in the Golden Glow" – Felt – There were some bands that I didn't know much about when I started the book and Felt were one of them. I got to them, as you do sometimes, through conduit of a more familiar band they influenced (in this case Belle and Sebastian) and fell in love. It's hard not to listen to this and feel better if you're ailin'.
"Roller Girl" Anna Karina – Ye Ye is Twee. Japanese 60s pop is Twee. Songs about Nouvelle Vague movie stars or 60s models are Twee and songs BY 60s Nouvelle Vague movie stars or models are Twee (whether or not they are good or bad, that's a different call). Whether or not they look good while singing a possibly bad song, is a no brainer. Bet on it. This song reminds me of that track "Lust in the Movies" by the Long Blondes. Whatever happened to them? Great band from the Aughts who seemed on the verge for about a month or two. Come back to the five and dime, Long Blondes, Long Blondes.
"Chicago" – Sufjan Stevens - I knew rock as I understood it (and probably my career in rock journalism) was over when I found myself in a Brooklyn basement interviewing this guy for Uncut the British music glossy and there was no cocaine around, no strange women with bangs, it was daylight and we were talking about wheat pennies, the Peterson Guide to Bird Watching and Philately.
My ginger ale is getting warm so this is where I will leave you. Please follow me at @marcspitz or go to www.officialmarcspitz.com or stay right here to comment on the inclusions, the omissions and any suggestions and I promise (fingers crossed) to answer them all.
Marc Spitz and Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film links:
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