Monday, August 15, 2016

David LeGault: Against The Future (As Told By the Compilation Album NOW)

1. Janet “Together Again”

Likely, you are already familiar with the Now That’s What I Call Music! Anthology series: a staple of the world of radio sugar nonsense, a callback to the days of buying albums of singles instead of picking our songs a la carte. Starting in the United Kingdom, the series has sold over 100 million albums, the most successful being Now That’s What I Call Music! 44. In the copy seen above, the first in the American series, Janet Jackson’s name has inexplicably been shortened to, simply, Janet.

2. Backstreet Boys “As Long As You Love Me”

I love the idea of collection: the ways in which meaning accrues once you get enough of something. We find significance in ordering—whether that be alphabetically, chronologically, by height or weight or assigned at random. There’s a joy in completion; every piece or number that cannot be found becomes a higher value for X. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than at my current job at a used book and music store: my assembly of the Now compilations becoming something of an obsession.

3. Fastball “The Way”

The job has been nothing if not a series of collections, of ways I’ve searched for meaning in otherwise meaningless work: I have filled photo albums with pictures and ephemera used as book marks, have filled bookshelves in my home with bizarre movie novelizations. The book of essays I’ve recently completed was narratively predicated upon my collecting of 100 identical copies of an album I had never listened to before. Despite the absurdity of such an undertaking, the amount of time involved (over three years) gave the project a ridiculous amount of weight. When I finally reached my total—when I finally permitted myself to listen to the album—the experience felt spiritual.

4. Harvey Danger “Flagpole Sitta”

What I know is that time and effort imbue a grander sense of meaning or purpose, at least as it comes to art. Timelessness supersedes timeliness.

5. Spice Girls “Say You’ll Be There”

Perhaps that’s what draws me to this new collection: this Tower of Now. Individually, these albums are merely snapshots: an indication of what was popular in the month they were published. Absent from dates it’s hard even to give them the sort of meaning we find in the Best American Series (which, while still gives a snapshot, attaches itself to some historical/cultural context by the very nature of being assembled annually as opposed to Now’s arbitrary release schedule). Only by looking at the transition from Now 1 to 2 to 3 do we understand the shifting of pop sensibilities, only through this arrangement can we find context: a sense of where we’re coming from, a sense of where we’re heading.

6. K-Ci and JoJo “All My Life”

I find myself reading a lot of Think Pieces: opinion pieces that overwhelm my Twitter feed with links from Slate or Salon or their ilk. Perhaps it’s this nightmare of an election, perhaps these links are more easily consumed on my phone when I should be working, but I find that this sort of writing has taken over my reading life. To my detriment.

7. All Saints “Never Ever” (Single Edit)

I am wondering about how Think Pieces function. In essence, they are (at least from a base, mechanical perspective) functioning in the same vein as the Essay: there is an emphasis on developed voice or persona, on thoughtful consideration, on building scene or tension. Does the difference have to do with the conclusions made (or not made), the venue in which they are shared and distributed?

8. Tonic “If You Could Only See”

Despite the disposable nature of the NOW series, NOW 1 holds up surprisingly well, has a sense of timelessness that the other iterations lack. Perhaps it is my own subjectivity and bias, but of the entire album, only “If You Could Only See” does not register. I remember every other song and band, but Tonic could not be immediately placed, seeming almost accidental among this cataloging of late 90’s music: we capture the pure pop scene, the alt-rock world with Radiohead, even the brief swing revival as made by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and countless other iterations of embarrassingly named daddy bands. Now 1 does miss the late 90’s Latin craze as lead by Ricky Martin, Mark Anthony, et al, and oddly enough, despite hit singles spanning the first three or four years of the series, Ricky Martin does not appear on any of the Now anthologies.

9. Hanson “Mmm Bop”

Is it the predictive nature of the Think Piece that makes it so disposable, is it something unique to its form? Although there are innumerable examples of essays written in past or present-tense, I was hard pressed to find any essays that went as far as to predict future events. The only example I could readily find was Thomas Lynch’s collection The Undertaking, where several essays speak to the way he’d like his death to be, when he’d like it to be. But as these are desires and not true predictions, even this example seems weak. Does the very nature of making a prediction decrease a work’s long-term value: that it’s either proven right or wrong before we move on? Is this the same reason we treat most science and speculative fiction as somehow less literary, of less long-term value?

10. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Zoot Suit Riot”

Perhaps I’m so consumed with the future and its tense because—in the time between me writing this and you reading it—I am leaving my job of the last five years, moving to Prague where I will be teaching AP English courses to the children of missionaries for the next two years.

11. Imajin “Shorty (You Keep Playing With My Mind)”

My favorite essays come from a place of uncertainty, of questions without clear answers. The lack of certainty causes a dramatic tension, even melodrama in the case of foreboding where our lack of future knowledge equates with danger, with narrative excitement. Predictions—not even certainty but the confidence of it—kills the art and the artifice: it puts it on a different plain of practical knowledge. Something about that wrecks the experience.

12. Brian McKnight “Anytime”

And I come to you now from that place of uncertainty. Within the next two weeks I will be on a plane with my wife and two small children without knowing where we’ll be living, not to mention the language, the city, or basically anyone at all. I will be teaching a course I have never taught with no real preparation. Which is to say that I am looking for answers: demanding resolution even as I try to pack my life into three suitcases, as I leave a job I’ve hated that has still given me a sense of consistency, as I hold onto an earnest belief that place and self are intertwined—that by moving halfway around the world I can perhaps become somebody else.

13. Aqua “Barbie Girl”

Now is indiscriminate in its love: it cares for one-hit wonders as much as the seasoned pop sensations. Perhaps it has to do with the series’ origins overseas, but there is a heavy European influence across the Now spectrum, arguably a stronger influence than your typical top 40 station. It might be my own ignorance to the pop music scene—my musical hipster tendencies or insularity—but I’m amazed at how many of these one hit wonders are still actively touring: Aqua has released an album within the past several years; Lou Bega still has a full touring schedule in Belgium; The Venga Boys still like to party. I like to believe this all points toward our future tense: that because we don’t see or hear of something does not mean that it’s dead, that a quiet future is still a future.

14. Radiohead “Karma Police”

We could write an entire book on the song ordering philosophy of albums (perhaps even more so the mixed tape), but Now can’t be bothered with this conversation. And why should it? Chronology gives us that sense of order and time, alphabetization would be arbitrary but at least intentional. Now does not attempt to open with a hook, put its top single at #3 or close with a big ballad. Now is not constrained in the way typical albums are constrained: there was a period of time where they could release new albums monthly and has never a lacked for material or people willing to buy it. It is pure consumerism.

15. Everclear “I Will Buy You a New Life”

What matters here is how we put our own sense of order on top of it, how the tracks themselves become a way of ordering our minds, our anxieties, our grasps at significance. It is still arbitrary, but as we let the constraints push against us, we begin to whittle out their meaning.

16. Lenny Kravitz “Fly Away”

And what order can we put against the future, how to assemble or constrain that which we do not know?

17. Marcy Playground “Sex & Candy”

Which is to say that my two weeks of notice have been put in, that I tentatively have a flight out of the country set for August 15th. That despite my excitement, I am deeply bothered by the fact that I haven’t yet found a copy of Now 2 to complete the 1-20 run I’ve been attempting to assemble. That collecting matters. That individually these items make little sense, but like gravity their meaning accrues as the items accrue. That looking at the past takes on this same sense of collection and arrangement, that the future has its place, but perhaps that place is not yet here.

David LeGault's recent work appears in The Spectacle and Passages North, among other journal and anthologies. He will be living in the Czech Republic for the next two years, where he will start writing a book on the Sedlec Ossuary.

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