2:20 pm Jul. 24, 2012
Sharing a favorite song can be a celebration of joy, an awkward wait for approval, or a simple moment of appreciation.
Standing in front of a room of more than a hundred music fans at Housing Works last night, Fluxblog founder Matthew Perpetua, someone well used to sharing music, waited for Scissor Sisters’ “Paul McCartney” to finish. In person, it turned out, the sharing was a bit awkward.
“Alright, so that was 40 seconds of just standing around while a song plays,” he said. “You should just get used to that weird dynamic, because we’re going to do that like eight more times tonight.”
For Fluxblog’s ten-year anniversary, Perpetua invited several prominent writers (music and otherwise) and one bona fide rock star to each select a song from the past decade (with an exception or two) and explain its importance. Writers took the stage while their songs played on speakers. Emily Gould, who spoke first, laughed at the awkwardness of standing there listening to her selection, a Martha Wainwright cover of the Eurythmics "Love is a Stranger." Others, like Rookie contributor Amy Rose Spiegel, danced to the Delays' "Nearer than Heaven," and Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield mouthed along to the lyrics of Stephen Malkmus’ “Malediction.”
When Perpetua’s Fluxblog, considered one of the first MP3 blogs, appeared ten years ago, the first generation iPod was barely a year old, and file-sharing was still coming down from its post-Napster hangover. Fluxblog filled some of that space, curating regularly updated (legal) MP3s accompanied by small write-ups. The site soon became well-known as a tastemaker, thanks to introducing and promoting then-little-known bands like LCD Soundsystem, but people visited the site repeatedly as much for Perpetua's bright, inventive, sometimes free-associative writing as for the music. (In a 2003 post, he described James Murphy as a “cross between "Pete & Pete"’s Endless Mike and "Six Feet Under"’s Nate Fisher”.)
Now, sites like SoundCloud and applications like Spotify see more streaming and a lot less "right-click-save-as." But 32-year-old Perpetua, a contributor to Pitchfork, carries on posting songs daily, and his following, anyway, hasn't slackened.
Many of last night's song selections, like a lot of Perpetua's writing, were personal, reflecting a specific time period for the contributors. Music writer Amanda Petrusich picked Interpol’s “NYC,” which reminded her of her first year in New York and the first record review she wrote for money.
Some were for the academic appreciation of the music itself, as Heather D’Angelo of Au Revoir Simone chose Electrelane’s “The Valleys,” which she said was precisely put together, borrowing its arrangement from the "stern Sunday-mass austerity" of religious music, it's lyrics borrowed from a Siegfried Sassoon poem.
Pitchfork editor-in-chief, Mark Richardson, followed her up with the Silver Jews song, “How to Rent a Room,” which he said had helped him get used to the idea of settling down with his then-girlfriend in Greensboro, N.C., after spending much of his 20s wandering. The line, “An anchor lets you see the river move,” particularly affected him, with its notion that stopping allows one to see more clearly the motion surrounding you.
Sean Collins, another Rolling Stone writer, picked a piano-led instrumental by Nine Inch Nails from 2002. Trent Reznor, he explained, has composed hours of instrumentals, including several soundtracks; his score to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is actually longer than the movie itself.
“Reznor has obviously had a lot to say in this mode, a sort of ominous ethereal take on ambient music,” he said. “Sort of Music for Airports With Really Atrocious Safety Records.”
He was further inspired by the title of his chosen song, “Leaving Hope.” He likened the phrase to an idea where the hope of survival makes a catastrophe worse than actual foreknowledge. He said it came up in the latest Batman movie.
“I had a daughter who was born last year, and I want things to be good for her always, and I know that they won’t,” he said. “I want the world to be better for her than it is right now and I accept that it won’t. So, hopelessness is no longer comforting to me because its not just about me anymore. I feel responsibility to instill in my daughter a hope for the future that I don’t feel. And I Tweeted about this last month … and someone replied to me: 'Do you think you’ll be able to be convincing if you don’t believe it?' And I said, 'Nope.’”
Electric Six frontman Dick Valentine kept things a bit lighter, explaining why he picked a song by Minneapolis singer Mark Mallman, “True Love.”
“I go up to him after the show," Valentine said. "[And] I say, ‘This is the best song I ever heard in my life. It’s incredible.’ He’s like ‘Yeah, yeah. I’ve been hired for weddings and people have made that the dance between the bride and the groom, they like it so much.’ I was like, ‘Yes, I would have done the same thing if I knew about the song when I got married. It’s a perfect song. And then he said, ‘But its so clearly about my obsession with a hooker and stalking her.'”
The room laughed.
“So, anyway, that’s the song. I think that’s the beauty of writing love songs and how the wool has been pulled over all of your eyes over the years, that what we are hearing is not what we’re hearing.”
The night ended with an impromptu group discussion of R. Kelly's “Ignition (Remix),” where all of the evening's speakers returned to the stage and riffed on the blog-celebrated classic. Perpetua said that he's found it impossible to find the remix at karaoke bars, a shame, he explained, because no one likes the original version.
“I do! I love the original!” someone yelled from the back of the audience, and Perpetua seemed surprised.
“No matter what it is, someone likes it,” he said.
The show ended and the room broke to different corners. Rob Sheffield signed a copy of his book Love is a Mixtape for a fan as others complemented Mark Richardson on Pitchfork's writing.
Chicago-residents Joe Macaré and Meg Groves, friends of Perpetua, were visiting New York and stood near the back.
"For me, the more I love something, the less eloquent I can be about it," Groves said. "I'm like, 'Just listen to it' or 'Oh, this rocks,' or whatever, and I've always admired Matthew because the more he loves something the more he's able to articulate what moves him about the song and within the song."
Macaré also praised the effort to write about songs, which distinguishes Fluxblog from just being an MP3 clearinghouse. Today, he said, some music blogs were dealing from the fallout from aggregators like Hype Machine that direct people to blogs that have posted a particular song rather than recommending good writing.
“So who cares what that guy or woman’s writing is like. It’s just like, where do I get my free music from?" Macaré said.
Speaking to me a bit later on, Perpetua pondered the future of MP3 blogs.
"I don't think people are making them too much, or they're making them in different formats," he said. To keep pace he's started a companion Tumblr to his site. "I'm not gonna stop anytime soon."
Perpetua said it’s the sentiment that matters, and that there will always be people to appreciate a good writing.
“My site kind of came about because technology changed, and as technology changes, people keep doing different things, but I think the core of just writing personally about music and people writing about songs, I think that’s something that’s not going to go away.”
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