Built to Spill moved to the major labels and everything changed. No that’s not true. The band (well, Doug mostly) just sounds more serious about their music. What’s impressive is that there are no obvious singles since each song is over 5 minutes long (except for one).
This is considered a classic 90s album but fans of the band and others. And while I like it, it’s not my favorite. A few of the songs are a little too drifty and anticlimactic. But at he same time there’s some really amazing stuff here.
It opens with “Randy Describing Eternity” a cool song with a great riff and an interesting lyrics. My favorite song (most days) on this record is “I would Hurt a Fly.” It has a fairly quiet intro with more intriguing lyrics: “I can’t get that sound you make out of my head/ I can’t even figure out what’s making it.” The song waxes and wanes and even adds some cello. And then at 4 minutes, the song shifts gears entirely, stopping to add a brand new fast section with some great guitar work and wild noisy soloing.
“Stop the Show” is another favorite. It opens with a slow meandering guitar section and then jumps to a great, frenetic set of verses. After about 5 and a half minutes the song turns into a crazy noisy fest and then switches to an amazingly catchy guitar instrumental solo outro, which could frankly go for five more hours. “Made Up Dreams” has several different elements in it. And even though it’s only 4:52, it still packs in a lot of music.
“Velvet Waltz” is over 8 minutes long. It has slow parts, and a lengthy middle section with strings (in waltz time of course). It builds slowly adding some cool guitar sections and a great long solo at the end. “Out of Site” is one of the shorter songs on the disc. It has an immediate, fast section that is very catchy. It then mellows out to a slow cello-filled section. “Kicked it in the Sun” is kind of trippy. At four and a half minutes a noisy section overtakes the music, but behind the noise is a beautiful, pretty guitar/keyboard melody. Then it shifts out of the noise into a more rocking catchy section.
The final song is the nearly 9 minute “Untrustable/Part 2.” It begins loud with great lyrics “You can’t trust anyone because you’re untrustable.” Like the other songs it has several parts. Around 4 minutes it turns into another song altogether. This continues for a bit and then at 7 minutes it shifts gears entirely into a keyboard dominated romp.
There’s so many interesting melodies and changes in this album, and it clear that it was completely influential on late 90s indie rock. But I think what’s even more impressive is that each album get a little bit better.
[READ: September 29, 2015] The Complete Peanuts 1955-1956
Moving on to volume 3 of the Complete Peanuts. Stylistically things are advancing towards the Peanuts characters we know now. Yet they haven’t quite gotten there. I think the kids’ faces (not their heads, just features) are still much smaller. And Snoopy still looks like a real dog, although his nose grows year by year.
In the beginning of the year, there’s a funny line from Lucy, attacking commericalism. Charlie is reading her a book. He says “Once upon a time they lived happily ever after. The end” And Lucy says “What’s on the rest of these pages, Advertising?” Much later there a joke in which Lucy asks Schroeder how much a musician makes, and he relies “Money? Who cares about money? This is art. You Blockhead.” It is ironic of course that Schulz went on to become so staggeringly wealthy–but maybe that just shows what good art can achieve.
Another one of my favorite sophisticated jokes comes when Lucy is flying a kite. The joke is all about perspective. It’s hilarious.
Snoopy has really begin imagining he is other animals, which allows for all kinds of funny jokes. He imagines that he is a rhino (he charges people and butts them), an alligator (he sneaks up on them and chomps), a constrictor and a giraffe (which hurts his neck). He also has a series in which he hates certain kinds of affection. He hates getting patted on the head (and a later one where he doesn’t like being scratched, he prefers to be scritched). Later he begins imitating all kinds of people in the story, like Patty and Lucy and even Beethoven and then eventually an amusing joke where he imitates Mickey Mouse. This also involves walking on two feet (and skating upright) which certainly leads to him being a two-footed creature (but not just yet).
Linus also become a bit more prominent and less babyish. He has two major comebacks to criticisms the first is “Five hundred years from now who’ll know the difference?” and the second s to just shoot people with his finger.
In terms of topical jokes there’ a very lengthy series of strips about Davy Crockett and coonskin caps. There’s variations on it, but primarily it’s Charlie arguing with Schroeder (who says Beethoven is better, of course). And there’s a few jokes about Miss Frances, who I had to look up was from a show called Ding Dong School.
The biggest surprise to me was that there are at least two jokes in this book that eventually made it to A Charlie Brown Christmas (which came out in 1965!) The first is that Linus east a snowflake and says that it needs sugar. And in Jan 1956 Pig Pen looks in the mirror after being told how bad he looks and says “On the contrary, I didn’t think I looked that good.”
In April 1956 there’s one of the first instances of Charlie and Linus leaning on a wall, talking. And also an occurrence of “good grief” which I know has been uttered before but its seems to be a bit more prominent. And of course, there’s the start a of series of kite in the tree jokes.
Near the end of 1955, Charlie has begins to feel friendless and lonesome. He’s obnoxious about it of course, but it’s still kind of sad. It’s a bit of surprise given that he used to feel kind of powerful and superior. Perhaps that’s two sides so the same coin. When Charlie strikes out looking, he has nightmares (and several days of strips) of people shouting Strike Three at him. Near the end of 1956, Charlie has become much more angsty which is capped by this gem. Charlie says he was talking to his dad about “how I always feel that nobody really like me.” Shermy asks “Did he say anything sympathetic? ” Charlie says, “Oh yes, in fact he said that he’s always felt that nobody likes him either.”
On the positive side, in September 1956, Charlie does kick a ball that Shermie is holding (the punchline is more about frightening Snoopy). And in September 1956 Schulz did a whole series of cartoons in which Snoopy was just so happy he had to dance. No matter what people say to him he still dances. The best one is when he is dancing and Lucy says he has no right to be so happy and he thinks, “she’s right I’ve got to start acting more sensible…” cut to him dancing again… “tomorrow.”
As with the previous books, there’s the collection of snowmen, blankets, marbles, baseball games, jump ropes, kites, Halloween costumes, leaves, rain jokes and much more. It’s interesting to see the themes and jokes that stay with him and the ones that just kind of drift away.
The Foreword of this book was written by Matt Groening. He talks about what I marveled about–the casual cruelty of the strips all drawn in such a friendly style. He also talks about how much hard it is to draw the gang than it seems. Especially when he was young. “In our wobbly hands Charlie Brown’s big round head turned into a macrocephalic oval. His eye dots drifted apart and his body got fatter and more squished.” He also says that Akbar & Jeff wearing of the zig zag striped of Charlie’s shirt makes “my comic strip either an especially honorable homage to Charles Schulz or his most blatant rip off.”
Unlike Walter Cronkite, Groening did get to meet Sparky Schulz. He told him that an early strip was hugely influential. It one where Lucy stomps on a bunch of snowman she just made she says “I’m torn between the desire to create and the desire to destroy.” Groening said to Schulz:
“Thank you for that strip. In one sentence you summed up my life.”
Schulz smiled politely.
Did you hear me?
He smiled politely!
I made Charles Schulz smile politely!
I just now realize I’m more like Charlie Brown than I’ve ever admitted to myself.