So far, I’ve counted six cats that live around here and frequent my porch. When I locked myself out of my house a couple weeks ago, a couple of them were ever so helpful, sitting in my lap while I texted everyone I knew who had a key, and getting in the way as I tried to pry my windows out. The king of the ’hood is Toby, a lean orange dude from next door that I’m pretty sure is in love with my cat, Pumpkin. He’s always trying to get in to see her.
I make fun of these cats for their regular rounds of the area, and for my own cat’s tendency toward routine. 7 am, knock everything off the dresser; 7:15, stand on my back and try to eat my hair; 7:17 lay down beside me and angrily lick in between her toes. Etc. Same thing every day.
Perhaps there’s something to identifying too closely with your pets though, because I have noticed my own pathetic routines more than usual lately. As life gets increasingly chaotic, I think I (and many others) impose regularity on the small things to feel like I’m not losing control. And often those things are totally mindless. Sometimes they’re necessary. I’m still buying food as though there’s a man in the house, getting stuck with endless leftovers. I just spent a whole week eating goddamned veggie burgers.
Much like food, with music, the same thing over and over feels good when you first encounter it, but then reminds you of your sad little ruts. Sorry, Hayes. I’m not saying you are my sad rut, but you made me realize that I am a bit stuck.
Every morning (here comes another routine), I listen to CBC radio while I get ready. Getting ready later in the day on weekends means sometimes the show that’s on isn’t, um, good. I absolutely hate when CBC tries to be funny...I don’t know why they can’t do it well. So when a show like “This Is That” comes on, I have to listen to something else. Like music.
So that happened last week on and I switched over to Hayes Carll’s Trouble in Mind, which I discovered is a good Saturday morning album; not too quiet and moody like what you might spin on Sundays, but not too overwhelming if you’re still hungover. Then I listened to it all week on the way to work. I’ve liked him for awhile, but couldn’t really figure out why. I assumed it was that little creak his voice has, something that makes his singing imperfect and emotional; gives him a much more interesting voice than someone who is consistently clear.
And yes, that’s true, I really like him for his voice more than anything, but what I also figured out this week is that he sounds a lot like Steve Earle. Same drawl, same little extra noises in his vocal delivery, same hiccupy pauses and short phrases. Same desperate begging of a lover for forgiveness, same poetic commentary on the everyday (routine?) life of a travelling musician. Very much late-90s Earle.
That’s not to say Carll is a copycat, because the other thing that listening to him all week did was make me pretty aware of his song structures and songwriting tendencies. He’s often lighter than Earle, like to the point of being a potential contender for New Country formats if they were just a bit smarter or broader in scope. The songs are short and snappy, well-structured pop songs, but diverse in delivery. He goes between moods a bit more readily than Earle; I find Earle’s albums tend towards a consistent feeling throughout that doesn’t dramatically change until the next album.
Carll is also good at realizing you can’t push too much of a good thing on your audience, so a funny little song like “Girl Downtown” gets alleviated by the heaviness of “Knockin’ Over Whiskeys”. The frustration of “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” balances “I Got a Gig’s” wry humour. The funny song gets old real fast; thank god he doesn’t just hang his hat on that, even though he does it well.
This one’s my favourite.
What this week of listening to Trouble in Mind did for me, though, was make me aware of my real listening problem: I’m either in full-on analytical mode or I’m in feel-good, escapist, sensory mode. In the way that I leave my cold house and feel like the sun on my skin is the equivalent of a bunch of men running their fingers through my hair, drawing the perfect temperature bubble bath because I had a long day, putting kraft caramels in my mouth simply because I like the texture (please don’t focus only on this last sentence in your comments), an album like contradictorily has sensuous pleasure and the feel-good of a familiar rut. Then I listen to it a few times, and fall into the trap of thinking about whether a song is AABA form or how he brought that first verse back around to finish off the song. Then I know it’s time to turn it off and throw away the remaining veggie burgers.
Hey, at least I’m not a cat. They really eat the same thing every day.