Breaking up with an album

Sorry, “Trout Mask Replica.” I’m breaking up with you.

This isn’t easy for me, please understand. You’re special. You ask the people who love you for reasons why they do, and the first thing they talk about is how special you are. There’s a club of people who love you, and they fill rooms and discuss their love and congratulate each other on how vast their love is and point out nuances and … adore the smell of their own farts.

Yeah, there, I said it. And I don’t even mean it in a bad way. I have works with whom I have my own rooms and gangs. The big one, of course, is The Beatles. If you can’t understand how great and influential they were and are, we cannot interact. You don’t have to think The Beatles are the greatest thing ever, or even like them. But if you cannot even acknowledge their greatness and influence, I can’t grasp the world in which you live.

That’s snobbery. But that’s just a fraction of mine. Here’s a story that shows the depth, breadth and pettiness of my snobbery. (And you may enjoy it more, because I get my come-uppance at the end. And I’m gonna put in some asterisks to break up the copy here, and come back to breaking up with an album.)


About 15 years ago, I met a guy who was the creative force behind one of my favorite albums of the previous year. (It’s at #226 on The Big List.) As we spoke, our love for a very specific type and era of music became clear. He topped my Beau Brummels original issues with his rare British Small Faces 45s. My “Smile” bootleg, he felt, was topped by his rare edition of The Zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle.”

This was the foundation of The Great “Pet Sounds”-“Odessey and Oracle” War of WhateverYearThatWas. For at least 45 minutes, we each passionately broke down segments of our favorite of the two albums. (After, that is, I recovered from the shock of him declaring “Odessey and Oracle” a better album than “Pet Sounds.” That already, to me, bordered on heresy. Respecting his appreciation of music, and still more than a little awestruck to be talking to a musician whose work I adored, I gave him plenty of leeway.)

We broke our passions down to single notes, single vocal quivers, ingenious uses of silence. Each of us greeted the other’s presentation with agreement. “Yes, you’re absolutely right about that. Brilliant. BUT …”

I cannot ever make anyone understand how much I loved having this argument.

We didn’t resolve the question between us, but I honestly felt we both agreed I’d put forth a better case. So when I told the story for years afterward, I would say I “won” the “argument,” as though that mattered.

Fast forward a decade-plus. I’m sitting down and listing my favorite albums, a regular exercise I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m pondering expanding the list to dozens or even hundreds of favorites, because I’ve always kind of wanted to do that.

Without hesitation, “Odessey and Oracle” was in the top 20. (It’s at No. 14 on the current list.) Down into the 40s was “Pet Sounds.”

Now, I’m certain had I made my list 15 years ago, “Pet Sounds” would have been much higher. But what The Big List tells me in this case is I was in error, and it’s been corrected in the last 15 years.

Thanks, Mike Jarvis.


See, that’s the kind of passion I’m talking about it. I love it in anyone about anything. I can really get carried away alongside the enthusiasm of others. If you’re passionate about a pyramid scheme, you could get me close to emptying my wallet. If you REALLY wanted to drive to Vegas tonight, I’d probably be putting gas in the car somewhere in Missouri before I realized the degree of bad in the adventure to which I’d agreed.

But if you love comedy or movies or especially music with a passion and can communicate that, well, you’re my favorite kind of person.

And while I don’t mind loving the same music everyone else loves, I also enjoy finding my way around some weird music that catches my ear, and when I can find my way in to that kind of music, I’ve gained admission to a special, exclusive club. Those clubs don’t look down on people sitting outside. In fact, if you’re interested in coming in, they’ll stumble over themselves trying to open doors for you to help you on your journey.

Don’t make the mistake of agreeing to allow me to help you down a musical path. Express a slight interest in Frank Zappa, and you’ll get a disc full of MP3s and a daily request for your impressions so I can feed you more of what you like. I’m a music pusher. I get paid in feedback.

I’m in some of those exclusive clubs, the stuff a select group “gets.” Big Star, Small Faces, Lindsey Buckingham solo, Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock, The Jam, Zappa. (Some clubs are larger than others, and there’s tons of cross-memberships.)

I always wanted to join the “Trout Mask Replica” club. It’s by Captain Beefheart, it’s produced by Zappa, and everything I read about it says it’s something I need in my library, understanding it will help me understand other things and give depth to my music love.

Well, yeah, I want THAT to happen.

So for years and years, I’ve tried to understand “Trout Mask Replica.” I’d listen to it at least one day every year. I’d listen to it the way I normally listen to music (doing something to keep my hands busy while processing). I’d listen exclusively. I’d listen with a baseball game on TV, the sound muted. I’d listen while reading to essays about how great it was, and struggle to hear the things mentioned in what I was reading. I just never really quite caught on.

When I was an active member of the Elvis Costello internet mailing list (late 90s), my efforts at understanding “Trout Mask Replica,” then at about 10 years running, was viewed with admiration by some and derision by others. I particularly enjoyed e-mail off-list with a person wholly impressed, if a bit confused, by my ongoing effort with “Trout Mask Replica.” I introduced them to Material Issue and “International Pop Overthrow” (No. 158 on The Big List), so it was a win for everyone.

(See? Another person brought into another exclusive club.)

But “Trout Mask Replica” continues to elude me. About an hour ago, just looking through folders on my computer looking for something new to sample, I put on an album by Swedish prog-metal band Opeth.

How I got to Opeth was interesting in its own right. I was reading Prog Rock magazine’s list of the top 150 prog albums, and a couple of names I didn’t know kept popping up: Opeth, and Steven Wilson. I picked up a few of their albums and set them aside for the time when the mood struck me.

That happened today, and the album I listened to was “Blackwater Park,” an album Wilson produced for Opeth.

It’s great. From the first minute, I wanted to hear more.

(Wait. Did he just sing something about “Dracula’s balls”?)

I don’t always advocate judging an album after first listen. Lots of things can be influencing an experience, positively or negatively. But this album gave me more joy in 120 seconds than “Trout Mask Replica” did in 120 listens.

I’m letting go of things. “Trout Mask Replica” is one.

I’m sorry. I gave it dozens of chances. I made my very best effort.

Ask anyone. It’s not you. It’s me.


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