Sunday, June 07, 2020

Speech impediment

"Every few years I like to have a pause-laden conversation with Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields", the Guardian's Alex Needham tweeted recently, promoting his piece on their latest encounter. You wouldn't think it of a man who has released one album containing 50 songs and another containing 69, but Merritt, with his "laconic baritone", seems to be right up there with Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis in terms of how unwillingly he answers questions - but I for one am grateful to Needham for putting himself through it once again.

This time Needham managed to engage Merritt on everything from his unusual upbringing ("on a Tibetan Buddhist commune in Vermont, where music was forbidden") to his taste in song lengths (on new album Quickies, there's nothing longer than two minutes and 15 seconds), his genius for song titles ('You've Got A Friend In Beelzebub', anyone?) and how he damaged his hearing by "standing too close to the circular saw being scraped across corrugated metal" at an Einsturzende Neubauten gig in the 1980s.

Merritt certainly isn't coronavirus' biggest fan. He's had and recovered from it himself, and lockdown is far from ideal for a songwriter for whom the creative juices only flow when he's in a bar "one-third full of cranky old gay men gossiping over thumping disco music". He even speculates that its impact on scheduled tour dates "may have simply ended my concert career".

One thing's for certain, though: unlike other musicians who should know much, much better, you won't find Merritt singing the praises of the president any time soon, or those who put him in the White House and may yet keep him there: "In reaction to Donald Trump's suggestion that people ingest disinfectants, Howard Stern suggested that there should be a Trump rally in which his supporters drink disinfectants and, quote, all drop dead, unquote. I admire Howard Stern for being able to say these things and keep his job. I also completely endorse that sentiment."

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