31 1 / 2012
Jeff Mangum has created a unique catalog of songs that resonate with a troupe of wilting-flower intellectual Americans. He keeps his songs scarce, instilling the pre-digital value of songwriters in the eras without recording devices. Bottled-up and pickled in the cold shed he cracks the jar open on seldom occasion. Each time the vinegar grows ever dim, the sweetness fades, the brine stings less. I’m not sure if Jeff likes these songs anymore, but he seems to know there’s a proud-hearted audience that is decreasingly half-desperate for them.
These earnest sons and daughters with crisp-cuff jeans above their pale ale workshoes are crafting their lives upon grass-fed hopefulness. These kid-faced mid-life professionals secretly loathe the ironies of middle-class rewards, but hang the vinyl above their beds. Finding solace in the soft-faced muppets, they pray with all their secular might for a truth found within the cracked guitar tonks of Mangum’s photomatic broken-youth parables. They hope their live viewing of his near-pantomime performance will free them from the irritation of their destabilized generation.
In Jeff they see an available ideal, the soft hero. They find their salve through an album and a half of decade old songs, sung by a man quiet enough to allow intrigue in his bio. Maybe if they sing along, especially when he asks, they’ll scrape the genius from his air. In an era where the value of nearly everything is churningly reinvented, the decay of these songs is painfully obvious. Two years ago the audience would be standing, singing at the top of their lungs. At this event, we all sat in theatre chairs and half-sung self-consciously. Next time we’ll put him in a glass case and kiss the surface.
The songs are good. I wish Jeff the best, but wish even more that he’d write new songs. Still, more importantly, the songs he sang last Thursday night are songs that dance upon the string theory within our cells. They mingle with neutrinos that are older than stars and gape at our bones from amidst the eldest vibrations. My grandkids will like these songs. Eons ago there were apes who would find magic in these songs.
Over the piles of time, songs have formed-up within cultures, combined like chemistry, and followed the math of notes and time. Uniform audiences warmly gawk at the modest majesty of a lonesome figure. Sitting, surrounded by sound-making tools that only they can play in a special way.
Like the slow salt-loaded waves on the moonless sea, these songs have seen their crest. They’ll soon be stacked within the basement boxes of polaroid portraits, cheap plastic school trophies, and mom’s love letters to a man who wasn’t her husband.