Music Is Poisoning Me

This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.


i used to listen to music all the time.

it was like church.

from the time i was really young, it was sit, sit sit, then later sit and cut and paste and listen listen listen to music and get lost inside of it. worshipping, mindlessly.

what happened?

i think it was a few things.
i have to now point out the irony of the fact that i tried to put on music on my itunes to write this diary entry to and had to turn it off.

i can’t handle a soundtrack anymore.
everyone else around me seems totally capable of listening to music while they email, while they work, while they write, talk, live.
i can’t do it. actually, who am i kidding. i’ve never been able to. i couldn’t do my homework with music on. i coudln’t concentrate.
music was different. music was an activity in itself, unless i was doing something completely visual, like drawing or collaging or making a fanzine or pasting up shapes and glow-in-the-dark-stars on a ladder onto the ceiling in myu bedroom. music was o do physical, listening work to.
i think part of the problem is that i don’t do those things anymore. almost all of my work is brain work. that doesn’t allow listening. and when i am doing nothing, i want quiet.
i don’t listen to much music anymore. i can’t really handle it. and it frightens me.

it’s an identity crisis of sorts.

i’ve been at south by southwest for 3 days now.
this is the land of music, of overmusic, uebermusic, of too much sound, of show flyers and business cards and CD demos flying through the air like so much pollen. they all land in the gutter.
you see them there, soaking in the dirty rainwater, but you can’t stop to reflect, the crowd pushes you on. noise and more noise drowns out even the good music.

in the last 3 days i have
-played in a rehearsal space with brian for 7 hours
-played a show for about 1000 industry people (it was a good show, a good show yes yes yes)
-laid comatose in the hotel room, shunned housekeeping
-spent 12 hours in the studio recording with …and you will know us by the trail of dead
-been in countless bars and clubs playing music

and i have been wondering all the while.
what is this shit?


i put music on, music people give to me, and i can’t hear it anymore. my mind is full of things that aren’t music.
but there are So Many Ways of listening. i can’t help it. i have always listened to lyrics first. through the years i listen with my business head, my ME head, will this band be a good opener, will this band appeal to other people, will this band XXXXX and all of a sudden i cannot hear anymore. my head is so clouded with judgement that i can’t listen. i can;t hear the way i used to.

i used to just listen. and i liked, or i didn’t. then all of this happened.

that’s why i was so ecstatic when i found regina spektor. sure, i was excited because my brain fired off FRIEND COMRADE WE SHOULD PLAY TOGETHER OOH TELL PEOPLE OOH but fundamentally there was something deeper, something that said: none of that shit matters. i felt the same way when i heard the latest antony & the johnsons, and the trail of dead record that came out last year. just…..Good. good good good. disregard all other voices while listening. but it’s getting harder.

i almost never listen to music anymore. i own great headphones. i have a great stereo at home. but i almost never use them. i can’t. when i have free time and i am on the internew or emailing, i need silence. when i am at home, i like to listen to my apartment. when i am doing dishes, i turn music on. i have two choices: Friend Rock or Not. Friend Rock is the name i adopted (from ad frank, orginally) for the CDs that friends and fan give me. they accumulate very quickly. when i get home from tour, there are usually dozens. they get given to me on the road. i do not listen as i go along. i can’t. i probably, at this time, have over 300 un-listened-to Friend Rock CDs in various piles and Cd wallets at home. I keep up with them, i organize them, but i rarely sit down to listen. when i do, it is a job. sometimes brian joins me. it goes like this:

play first 10 seconds of track one
> if engaging, listen to next 30 seconds
x if not, eject and fling
> if engaging, listen to next minute
— if not engaging after one minute, skip to next song
x if not engaging after next song, eject and fling
> if engaging after next minute, comptee song and continute listening
> if still engaging, rejoice

this is a VERY basic breakdown. often i will skip through 4 or 5 or 6 songs on a bad CD before flinging.

but a lesson in demo-giving….make sure the first two songs are strong as fuck.

back to my conundrum.
listening to music has become WORK.
i don’t want it to be. i listened to music for years because i loved it, not because i wanted anything for or from it, not because i wanted to DO something with it.
though that;s not really true….even in high school i was making music videos in my head to every song on my walkman. but that was outside reality, it doesn’t count.

it’s all fucking relative.
we played for a huge audience at SxSW, and fucking slayed the show as far as i’m concerned, and the first reviews to come up on the web were terrible. but the show was great. it’s starting now….the Great Divide.
i can tell now, there are going to be people out there that just Have to Despise this band. what are they listening for? what do they want? some people freak about us, some people hate it. obvious. but DESPISE US? is it that we’re so threatening? why? because we’re dong what we want? because we’re not directly mimicking bands from 1983? or 1973? or 1993? i dunno. maybe.

but i think Everyone is listening differently nowadays. the Joy Of Music is disappearing rapidly. it’s all about other things. things outside. things like credibility, coolness, crowds and t-shirts. when did it happen? this must have been happening in the late seventies when some people were listnening to donna summer and some were listening to the sex pistols and that’s how you chose your friends. but was it like THIS? where a band was a compelte advertisement of Who You Are, the way it seems to be with teenagers nowadays? was i in the middle of it and didn’t notice? confused. bob lefsetz would have an answer, i am sure (bob: i was born in 1976).

about a month ago i got the new kate bush CD. i am not a fan, i actually just recently discovered her catalog, which i like don’t love.
i was curious. she hadn’t put out a CD in 12 years. double disc. i heard the about the fourth track (mrs. bartolozzi) on the first disc and i just stopped. i fucking loved it. and i didn’t listen to anymore. i just listened to that track. over and over. for five days. i probably put it on 20 times. i couldn’t bring myself to listen to the rest of the disc, much less disc two. wrong of me? i don’t think so. i was just so excited that i wanted to savor it.

i want music to be like church again.


conrad from trail of dead fascinates me. he is one of the best songwriters i have ever met and he seems to be totally blase about recording. but then again, he’s made more records than i have. will that happen to me? will i disappear into the next room into the clutches of a video game when someone is singing a vocal on my next record? it’s totally possible. he’s a genius. he can do what he wants, he gets no complaints from me. rock and roll and what it means, all of this shit, is a myth. everyone does what they want to do. always has been. there is no Truth.

recording with them today was mind-blowing. so different from being in the studio with brian. this band pieces songs together. they’re almost never in the studio at the same time. i can’t fathom that. what can that possibly BE like? we listened to track by track and i laid down piano on a few tracks that weren’t finished, taking sveral takes to get everything right. then we did a new song track from scratch (me on piano and conrad on guitar and donald on drums) and then conrad and i laid down some back-up vocals on the one we;d just recorded. and it all seemed….so….simple. when brian and i are in the studio it’s like take after take of MUST BE PERFECT madness. and this was just….”oh………yeah. it’s fine”. and it was fine. maybe we’re too uptight. but then again, it’s all relative. i listened to two ofd the finished tracks from the new trail of dead record and that shit is TIGHT. i assume they will take the mess and drivel i recorded and turn it into some kind of sonic masterpiece. donald and i had some art-noise fun doing a nuch of overdubs for a long song in which we put a brick on the sustain pedal of the 9-foot steinway and just made as much noise as possible inside of it using brass knuckles, sticks and guitar picks. conrad and i went out drinking and talked about music and the State of It.

there were moments in that studio earlier tonight where i felt complete, ever more complete than being in the studio making my own recordings. it felt real. making music without thinking too much. conrad and i came back to the studio after drinking at the local (have you ever tried an irish car bomb? – don’t) and just played and played on the piano, re-tracing all the songs we’d written back to their stolen sources. his came from a shane macgowan song. mine was stolen from the psychedelic furs. his was stolen from radiohead, which was stolen from a paul mccartney song. indeed, he said, there is nothing new under the sun. we could have played this game for hours.

in other news:
the album is coming out (in the USA, at least) in exactly one month. the tension mounts as the reviews come in black and white from every side. the press in the USA is indifferent, the press in europe and australia are freaking. i am going home for a week or so of family and friends and rest and then we are hitting the road for about ten weeks nonstop. i will be surprised if i have the energy to blog but i might surprise myself as this had become ever more therapeutic. reading all of the comments (yes, i still do, you motherfuckers) is one of the things that keeps my life rolling and helps me not feel alone. i am constantly astounded and ecstatic to find how many intelligent and literate people read this shit and comment on it. i love the internet. i still can’t believe it’s completely real but i am starting to. every time i get a real, thick book from i have more faith.


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