by Michael Goldberg
Monday June 25, 2001
Taking The Last Plane To Jakarta
John Darnielle reveals the 'greatest song title in the history of music'
I just finished reading, cover to cover, the latest issue (issue #6, that would be) of your zine, Last Plane to Jakarta, which I bought for $3 at Aquarius Records in San Francisco. Based on your "essays" about Biz Markee and Death Metal and Blonde Redhead and some other things that are included in this thin but earth-shaking volume, I must now pronounce you one of the best rock critics in the world. No, wait, perhaps my praise is too narrow. Rather, let me say that you are currently one of the best individuals, if not the best, writing about music and how it impacts your life (and, perhaps, our lives) in the world. (I write this based on having read the words of many, many individuals who currently write about music.)
Now before you admonish me for building you up before my readers so that they will click over to the "44.1 kHz" album reviews section of Neumu (www.neumu.net/fortyfour/) where you are a contributor, let me insist that my praise has nothing to do with the fact that Neumu happens to be one of the places you write for. It is quite the other way around. It is because you are currently one of the best individuals, if not the best, writing about music that I asked you to contribute to Neumu in the first place. But I must say that you have now quite outdone yourself.
I first began to suspect that your brilliance was evolving to a new realm (brilliance squared?) when I journeyed (virtually of course) to your new Web site, www.lastplanetojakarta.com, and read five of your essays. One was about the music video channel M2 ("The Decline of M2"), and how you thought it was once really good, but then it nose-dived, but then something recently made you think that there was still intelligent life in the programming department there, or something like that (I mean, I read it a week or two ago, and so I may have forgotten some key aspect of the piece, but in any case, those who read this can always go to your site and read that excellent essay for themselves, which is kinda the point).
Discovering Blonde Redhead
Anyway, I try to get into Aquarius Records once a week and I asked the owner, a wonderful person who happens to also be a friend of yours named Windy, if she could hold me a copy when the latest (print) issue of "Last Plane to Jakarta" arrived. (It's great, by the way, that folks can order your magazine from Aquarius online at aquariusrecords.org.) She did. So I started reading it. Now I want to be frank here. The only album you mention in the entire issue that I know for a fact I've listened to is the Blonde Redhead album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons like you, I didn't give it the attention it sounds like it deserves, so now I've got to dig through all the various piles of CDs I've got to try and locate it. And that reminds me that one of the things that I really love about your writing is how personal it is, and also how deep you go into the songs that move you.
I mean, I just loved this passage in the piece that is constructed as a letter to Touch and Go publicist "Scotty," where you're explaining how, after you first got the Blonde Redhead album in the mail from Touch and Go and gave it a cursory listen and decided that it didn't impress you, you put it in a jiffy-bag with the intent of sending it back to the label: "So I sent you [Scotty] an email saying thanks for the records you sent, I'll be sending a few of them back. I stuck Blonde Redhead and Shannon Wright and the Rachel's/Matmos EP into one of the jiffy-bags by the computer desk, and then I set it down on the floor: the floor near the computer desk where all the stuff piles up. The floor where I drop the one-sheets and the press kits and the promotional photographs and the envelopes and the business cards. The floor where my notebooks pile up like strata in the geological record. The floor, the wonderful wooden floor, which I should keep clean and nice to show off to visitors, except that we try to keep visitors out by not inviting them over and by not opening the floor to them when they do show up, making the question of whether the floor should stay clean or not an utterly moot point. The upshot of all this business about the floor around the computer desk being that it's a great jungle of jiffy-bags, compact discs...." I dug the fact that you lost the jiffy-bag with the Blonde Redhead CD and so never sent it back to Touch and Go, and that meant that you could eventually decide that you were wrong about Blonde Redhead and could rediscover the album and on careful consideration declare it a masterpiece!
Well, that is just a wonderful bit of writing that exactly describes the state of my own writing area at various times during the past, oh, 20 years. In fact, though I hate to admit it, more often than not, my own writing area is in such a state of disarray that it's lucky I can find the keyboard of my Mac. Even now all these CDs and small slips of paper and sunglasses and amplifier volume-control wands and headphones and a calculator and these 4x6 black-and-white photographs I have printed from the film I shoot week in and week out are trying to crowd onto and over the keyboard.
We Have Come To Talk About Death Metal
One of my other favorite bits from your latest issue is where you're talking about the Death Metal combo Rotting Christ you know, the one you wrote in the form of a letter to the Prime Minister of Greece: "The fact remains that the song's title is 'Transform All Suffering Into Plagues,' which is without question the finest song title in the history of music. Nothing else even comes close: 'Blue Suede Shoes,' ' A Day in the Life,' 'Mandy' come on, now. You know and I know that, deep in his heart, Barry Manilow wishes he'd had the presence of mind to change the title of 'Mandy' to 'Transform All Suffering Into Plagues.' He just chickened out, that's all. But your boys in Rotting Christ no, my good man, they did not chicken out. They put on their leather pants and sunglasses and..." Well, anyway, that one just cracked me up so much I had to read it aloud to my wife. And then I laughed even harder.
Well, gotta go now and try to dig up that Blonde Redhead album. Oh, but I did want to say that despite the fact that I'd never heard anything you wrote about in this issue except that Blonde Redhead album which I didn't pay attention to, I read every word 'cause the writing is so good and you've got such great stuff to say. I mean, you made me want to go hunt down Biz Markee's "Just A Friend." What higher praise can I offer?
Regards from Sonoma,