Monday, May 06, 2013

Shut Up and Play the Hits or How I Killed a Purple Cow

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

"When you start a band, do you imagine how its going to end?" Chuck Klosterman asked LCD Soundsystem's creator and frontman James Murphy in a documentary called Shut Up and Play the Hits.

Here is the trailer:

When I moved to Seattle in 1997, I was in two shitty bands that never went anywhere. One of them broke up before we had our first rehearsal (the guitar player got arrested for shop lifting from UW's bookstore). The other band broke up after the third rehearsal. I barely knew how to play one chord and I had hoped being in a band would give me the chance to learn guitar and improve. I'm one of those people who doesn't read the instructions when they get a new product and just dive right in. Same could be said creatively. I just jump head first and ask questions later after I fuck up.

LCD Soundsystem is a band that I did not like initially. In the mid 2000s, My friends from Colorado raved about that band. Then again, they ate more molly in a single weekend that most ravers do in a lifetime. I mean if it's 4am and people are cooking hard on mushrooms, liquid acid, and ketamolicane (a concoction my friends created that is mixed up ecstasy, cocaine and horse tranquilizers), I could bang on a garbage can and sing Velvet Underground lyrics in a falsetto and so long as there was blinking lights, they would think it's the best fucking music in the world.

Unfairly, I sort of put aside LCD Soundsystem as music for hipsters on molly, or the type of  band I listen to at 3am when someone puts it on at an after-party and everyone jumps up and down frantically like it's 1999. LCD Soundsystem had become an integral part of the late night club scene in NYC in the mid-00s and most of their musicians resided in Brooklyn during the apex of the Brooklyn Neo-Bohemian Renaissance. Jim Murphy is a self-described failure. He was lost in the shuffle most of his 20s before he fell backwards into LCD Soundsystem in his 30s. He dropped out of college to write music and poetry. Someone recommend that he should be a comedy writer and someone showed his stuff to Seinfeld's producers. They loved it and offered him a job on their writing staff. Murphy did not have a TV and had no idea what or who Seinfeld was (the show was still in its infancy), so he declined. Murphy spent his 20s drifting from one post-punk band to another before forming his own record label named DFA Records and getting late night gigs as a DJ at different clubs in the East Village and Soho/NoLita.

It only takes one moment for you to fall for a band. It takes only one hook from one song to suck you in. That happened to me with LCD Soundsystem's New York I Love You (But You're Bringing Me Down). At the time I traveled extensively for work, especially covering the European Poker Tour. It was one of those phases in my life in which I was burning the candle at both ends. I was overworked (by my own volition) and juggling more projects than I could count. I settled into my seat on a plane somewhere in Europe (either Amsterdam or London Heathrow) that would take be back to America. That's when New York I Love You came on randomly via shuffle. I had been splitting my time between the road and L.A. where my new girlfriend (Nicky) lived. I had spent very little time in NYC since I moved to Las Vegas to become a poker writer. I missed hanging out with my brother and watching NY sports teams. I missed wandering the streets aimlessly without a care in the world. I missed wandering through Central Park and smoking a joint before wandering around one of the many museums. I missed being alone in a huge crowd. I missed the city. I missed myself.

New York I Love You (But You're Bringing Me Down) hit home. Hard. Like a sledgehammer to my testicles. Because the city had undergone a transformation post-9/11 that did not sit well for me. I experienced different cycles of NYC over my lifetime. Birth. Death. Re-birth. I was toddler during the tumultuous 70s in which the city was broke and the subways were ridden with graffiti. I survived the excess of the 1980s and the crack epidemic. I survived the malaise of the early 90s and the eventual revitalization when Rudy Guiliani cleaned up the city and in a few years, he transformed Times Square. It used to be the heart of NYC's Red Light District but all of that filth was washed away and Rudy G ushered in corporate consumption and the Disney-fication of midtown. When I think of Time Square, I get images of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and junkies, trannie hookers, and porn theatres. No more porn palaces. Instead it's the Disney Store, Niketown, and Baby Gap.

Over the years, I slowly started to respect and appreciate the artistic side of LCD's music. It just wasn't for fucked up people. I won't go as far and say Jim Murphy is a tormented genius, but what I like about him is that he looks like the anti-rock star. Seriously. He looks like the middle-aged guy in your office who forgot to shave because had too much to drink last night.

Jim Murphy made a pact that he would never do LCD Soundsystem past the age of 40. That date crept up on him. He spent more time than he wanted perfecting albums and that lengthy time ate up huge chunks of his life. I felt his pain. I understood the frustration about real-life time flying by faster than you'd like. I wanted to take a year to write Lost Vegas, but it took me four years and another year of edits, rewrites and publishing limbo.

I have been devouring music documentaries over the last couple of months and there's are two common themes in almost every band's break up: artistic differences and substance abuse. If one doesn't get you, the other one will. LCD Soundsystem never had any of those problems so it's safe to say that Jim Murphy pulled the plug while he was ahead.

I can respect the guy for walking away from a band he poured his heart and soul into for a decade. He didn't want the music to get stale. He didn't want the positive experiences to become tainted by greed. He also had turned 40 and his body could not handle the rigors of the road like he could a decade earlier. Unfortunately today, the music industry is being turned upside down as the entire paradigm shifts and we have a generation of music lovers (millennials) who have never paid for music in their entire lives. Alas, bands have to play as many gigs as they can in order to generate income. For many of them, it's their only source of income.

Shut up and Play the Hits hit home hard because I kept thinking about my decision to walk away from a profitable website some of you might know as Tao of Poker. I had turned a half-baked idea into a "purple cow" and I caught lightning in a bottle in 2005. I had a remarkable run with the blog, made a ton of dough (it got me out of debt and funded a ton of trips), met some amazing people, traveled the world, and along the way I got paid to do something I love. Looking back, what I accomplished is the stuff dreams are made of. It was something I could never replicate no matter how hard I tried. So instead of chasing a ghost and letting everything get stale (which it had started to devolve into) and instead of me repeating myself (death for an artist), I decided to pull the plug on Tao of Poker for an unspecified amount of time. Initially I thought I'd only take a few months off, but then I realized how enjoyed not having constant pressure and stress for the first time in years. Besides, the smarmy political climate was still as murky as ever. It would make sense to stay dark until the government got their shit together and legalized online poker. But, you know how the federal government is... unless legislation has something to do with fear mongering, it's going to take it sweet time to enact that change.

When I watched Shut Up and Play the Hits, I felt like I knew the painful relief Jim Murphy had the day after his final concert at Madison Square Garden. He woke up and started the first day of the rest of his life. I knew exactly what was going through his head when I moved to San Francisco with Nicky. When I was pondering the future of Tao of Poker and my future as a writer, I was also in the middle of healing myself from a pretty gnarly car accident and was forced to confront an existential and mid-life crisis in the same swoop. Toss in the suicide of a friend and the federal government shutting down my only revenue stream, I was in horrible head space. It's easy to look back on all of this one year removed and understand everything after the fact. At the time I had to make tough decisions under tons of duress. Based on my shaky existential health and being caught up in a tidal wave of anti-establishment, I did the right thing and I stepped away. If the poker world is a circus, it was time for me to go home.

Have you ever been at a party that got shut down, or been in a bar that was raided by the cops? In short, shutting down Tao of Poker was akin to being at a raging house party where I got to be one of the performing bands, but just when the party started to get too out of hand, the police swooped in and shut the entire thing down. I'm just waiting for the next party to pop up before I plug back in and start jamming away.

Shut Up and Play the Hits is a film that you can see without knowing much about the band even though you get very little specific background. The film is broken up into two distinct parts that are interwoven. There is footage from LCD's final show at MSG cut in between segments from the day after with audio excerpts taken from an interview Chuck Klosterman conducted with Jim Murphy a few days before his farewell concert. It was a unique way to present the film because you don't get too bored with any one angle before they move onto something else.

Check out an interview Klosterman did with Murphy in 2010 for the Guardian.

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