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Liz Phair/If I Were a Carpenter

September 24, 2010

Listening to this tape now, I have probably thought more about Liz Phair than I ever have before. Although I knew the hits, at the time there was something too bright and shiny about her songs and I didn’t pay them much attention. It was music for confident people, of which I certainly didn’t feel like one.

I do remember pondering the song Supernova, especially the line: “And you fuck like a volcano and you’re everything to me”. In particular I wondered how it would be to be the person who inspired that song. I have no idea who that explosive person is, or if they are real, but my guess is that it must be at least based on someone. The idea of it terrified my teenage self. All I could picture was a tall man with dreadlocks and a flannel shirt, a biddable but a little stupid character, who was an over-eager lover. I didn’t know much about it all at that point but I hoped not to encounter one of these volcanic lovers. They are not my kind.

Another thing I wondered at that point was whether anyone would ever write a song about me. Listening to my tapes, hearing song after song about characters cruel, beautiful, unattainable, fantastic, I wondered about all these silent people, living their lives somewhere out in the world, and perhaps sometimes hearing their song on the radio, and feeling happy, or annoyed, or wistful.

Then this wondering was replaced by the realisation that I didn’t want to be the silent muse, mopping a floor when the song about me comes on the radio, I would rather be the one writing the songs.

On the other side of this tape is the album If I Were a Carpenter, an album of Carpenters covers released in 1994. I imagine that the Carpenters must have been in the air in the 1970s in the USA, people breathed their songs in and out without realising it.

The best known song on this album is probably Sonic Youth’s version of Superstar, a breathy, sad version of it. Although in general I am suspicious of Sonic Youth, it’s hard not to like this song. My favourite is probably Calling Occupants, by Babes in Toyland. This is through no great love of the band, although thinking of their baby doll dresses and bone-grinding, screamy songs I feel tenderness, like I would for an older sister who does things that I am proud of, yet don’t appeal to me aesthetically.

The Carpenters were before my time, and when I think of them, unfortunately the first thing that comes to mind is Rick Moranis singing “Close to You” in Parenthood. The second thing that come to mind is a copy of the zine Murder Can Be Fun about Karen Carpenter. But from listening to this tape, I suddenly have a great urge to listen to the real Carpenters. I’m sure they’re being played on easy listening radio right now, if I go out to the kitchen and search for it on our radio. Or I can just wait until I’m next in an op shop, that’s normally where I hear such songs.

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