Still - they provided an odd sort of satisfaction. I wrote myself an essay about them, God - 25 years ago almost - interestingly, one of the first things I typed on a Mac, whatever that is worth. I had just seen them play, for the 7th time I think it was... I've cannibalized bits of it since - looking at it now, it ain't bad - at least, it hits on why the Feelies are one of THE BANDS here. Let's see:
Seeing the Feelies is never quite like seeing a show. Music, I think, is a communal sort of thing. Of course there are songs that should be listened to in your room alone with the lights off, and songs that can be listened to like that, but there is something in music that is meant to be shared. Even private songs almost cry to be shared. Concerts should be the epitome of musical experience - rock concerts especially, where you stand in a hot cellar, banged against and crowded, inundated with the smell of tobacco and alcohol and sweat, and the music lifts the crowd, grabs it into motion, and the crowd (if it is a good crowd, a good concert, a good place) surges side to side, like the sea rushing into and out of a niche in the rocks. I don't mean you have to slam dance at every concert - only that there should be motion at concerts, that music needs motion, some kind of dancing, in a mass, in pairs, something. But the Feelies—
These days, they are almost accessible - they still tune the guitars between every song, but now they use electric tuners (cutting down the delay between songs by several minutes); you can hear the vocals now, almost, sometimes pretty well; they are getting friendlier, the drummers smile, they throw souvenirs into the crowd, at their most recent show, the bassist even cracked a joke and they tried to plug their record from the stage (in the tone of someone contractually obligated to do so of course). Their music is even lightening up - it is harder (as though they had spent the last year locked in five dark rooms listening to The Stooges very loud) [as I said above - I think this is from the end of 1989, so is referring to Only Life - though this sounds more like a description of Time for a Witness, from 91; these old documents have been reworked a few times through the years I'm afraid...], but also more accessible, more conventionally rock and roll. Yet for all that, a Feelies show remains one of the most intensely private experiences imaginable.
Music is usually communal - it binds listener and singer/player, binds its various listeners, creates a community, or the image of a community, even in the most private songs. But not the Feelies. No matter what the context, their songs sound like echoes inside your head, like remembered voices, remembered impressions of the sounds of guitars. The effect probably comes in part from the band’s stage presence - the bowed heads, the expressions of nothing but concentration, the abstracted jumping that looks more like air guitar than real rock-star antics - but there is more. They are rock music’s equivalent to Borges - they do nothing new - they almost deplore the idea of originality, they are content to do covers of songs someone somewhere should have written. Everything sounds like that lost forgotten unreleased Velvet Underground record, or maybe something by Iggy Pop or the Beatles you’ve never heard before.
There are records that exist in dreams that seem as though they should be real, just as there are books you dream about that should exist. In your dreams, you hesitate on these records, songs, pages, drawings - you realize you are dreaming, and some instinct warns you that these dream-books are illusions - they are only dreams. But these books or records are things you desperately want to be real - music you have not heard, new, unknown Beatles records, a Herman Melville novel you had forgotten about, that says just those things you suspected Melville meant to say, but never actually did - and you hesitate in the dream, you wait, you weigh this thing, check it against wakefulness (the subconscious seems to do this), and finally, you decide that it is real. Then sometimes this dream will recur - there is a stash of records, for example, David Bowie, The Beatles, T-Rex, I think, Pink Floyd, and lately, a Replacements record or two have been added, in the bottom of a hope chest in Maine, that though I have never actually found these records in that hope chest in Maine, I dream about, over and over, every time doubting their existence, every time knowing I hadn’t ever really found them there before, but every time rejoicing, when I remember that they indeed are there, and this dream is a memory and not an invention.
The Feelies are the caretakers of these dreams, just as Borges is the caretaker of the libraries of dream books. Both, Feelies and Borges, make art that seems like a synopsis of something already done, something you have heard, on a radio in Vermont somewhere, something you have heard about, seen cited in an article somewhere, seen in a dusty library or a shambles of a record store somewhere. You must always squint when you hear the Feelies, as if trying to remember where you heard this song before, just as you frown reading Borges, wondering if you didn't see the book he is describing on the shelves at Aunt Annie’s library. And maybe you did - The Search for Al-Mutas’m never existed before Borges, and Loveless Love is original to the Feelies, but The Purple Land, generally forgotten, and Take it Any Way You Can may indeed have preceded their reinterpreters; but that strange hesitation is part of the point.
Well - you can see what I was reading 25 years ago. But that's about it - what always struck me was their ability to absorb vast chunks of music history, and play it in a way that sounded both as if it were something you had heard all your life, and something that was just being revealed to you now for the first time. And - that goes for songs I've listened to for going on 30 years. I mean to say - the first time I heard them they were a revelation, and as familiar as my favorite band - and they have that quality now that I have heard them hundreds of times - everything sounds like it has always been there; everything sounds brand new.
And for all my 1989 era mysticism, the fact is that Feelies concerts were just about the most enjoyable, and indeed, communal experiences, I remember. They always conveyed a shared delight in the music - the songs, the playing. Maybe part of the mysticism comes from how easy they were to identify with. (Which may or may not have been a function of being a nerdy white guy.) And this - that they were (and still are) one of the tightest, sharpest bands going. The tight, fast rhythms, the interlocking drums and guitars, the clean sharp solos, their ability to convey multiple feelings in their songs - jittery, smooth, mellow, harsh - they could excel in any mode. They were more pastoral and pretty than REM, harder, more intense than Husker Du, more experimental than Sonic Youth. And - the guitars. I am a sucker for guitars, and Mercer and Million just ride those machines... it is a thing of beauty indeed.
And so - the countdown - which requires two lists of rate Feelies. First, their own material:
1. Slipping (Into Something) - which also provides one of the greatest musical cues in film history: the moment this song shifts tempos in Something Wild - signaling the films' shift in tone... just glorious.
2. The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness
3. Crazy Rhythms
4. Find a Way
5. Loveless Love - another song that makes a film, Assayas' Carlos - coming in as the film seems to take off...
6. The Good Earth
7. Slow Down
9. Moscow Nights
And then, Covers:
1. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for me and My Monkey
2. She said She said
3. Sedan Delivery
4. Dancing Barefoot
6. What Goes On
7. I Wanna Sleep in your Arms
8. European Son
Young Neil, sped up:
And another cover - featuring Peter Buck on another of the all time great rock songs... See No Evil:
And Bowie/Lennon, from Something Wild:
And here's Loveless Love live - just how fast they were live:
And another live version of Slipping (Into Something), which there can't be too many of: