Friday, November 30, 2007

Dinosaur - Kiss Me Again
Dinosaur - Kiss Me Again (Jimmy Simpson Mix).mp3

After my long hiatus, I decided to return with a truly special song, one that is worth even two really good songs. And so, I present to you one of Arthur Russell's greatest of his many great achievements: the Jimmy Simpson mix of Dinosaur's "Kiss Me Again". This is the version that appeared as the a-side on what was Sire Records' very first disco release, and the one that I prefer to the band's personal b-side mix. But before launching into this 13-minute movin' 'n' shakin' monster, let's cover a brief bit of background. Arthur Russell was a classically-trained, Buddhist cellist from Iowa who came to New York in the 1973 and later began recording what are now considered crucial and innovative disco records with a variety of musicians (including David Byrne, noted nerd and frontman for Talking Heads, who plays guitar on Kiss Me Again) and under a variety of monikers (e.g. Felix, Loose Joints, Dinosaur L, etc.). Along with Juggy Gales and William Socolov, he founded Sleeping Bag Records and ended up working in one way or another with an extremely impressive list of folks, including Phillip Glass, John Cage, Francois Kevorkian, Larry Levan, Diane Madden and many, many others. Glass once said that Russell "was a guy who could sit down with a cello and sing with it in a way that no one on this Earth has ever done before, or will do so again." Arthur was no square. He was a beast, and if you listen to even his biggest releases (which I admit is all I've done, for the most part), you can tell that the guy was a genius. Sadly, he died of AIDS in April of 1992.

Kiss Me Again sounds like fairly standard, good disco right off the bat. But one thing becomes apparent quickly: the song is patient. It doesn't rush into anything like a chorus, and you can tell that even when the vocals come in, the song is still warming up. It establishes this weird, tethery tension that makes you move but feel uneasy at once. You feel awkward; like you don't know where you stand and where the song is taking you. But you do know one thing: this thing is a beast. We start hearing a standard disco diva voice telling us about how she's running uptown and she wants this person (presumably a dude) beside her (at least that is the plan) and so forth. Then the clouds break and she wonders if she is a woman or a saint. This is a really striking line. Things seem to be going pretty well with this dude. She sees him so clear, even though the world is a smoky cloud (or something like that). But there's still this nagging tension, and we wait for some kind of catharsis or development. This tension is only elevated by the bridge where she keeps saying "I know my visions are real", in both thought and movement. What are these visions? Is she imagining all of this? It must pertain to the situation somehow, or she wouldn't be talking about it here. But we are immediately given a sense of an uncertain reality, even though she claims faith that her visions are real. But she acknowledges them as visions, and the music seems to imply a kind of uncertainty.

And then that amazing cello comes in. Where the hell did that come from? That, of course, is Arthur playing. Just what kind of weird disco song is this? Cello? And we STILL haven't felt the song "break" musically. It's still just keeping you moving back and forth in simple motions, creating a mold of movement. And we're three minutes into the damn thing. But that's not even a quarter of the way through, if you read the record label closely. When she begins saying "Here we are again" and begins asking simple questions, we know something is up, perhaps even slightly amiss. You know things maybe aren't as perfect as she made them seem at first. And the music, of course, tells its own story.

And then: the piano. Blood in the water. A tension starts beaming through, and there is a crack in the song's impenetrable facade. And once the chords break out at 3:38, a giant light just fucking bursts through, and everything goes nuts. I think this is one of the most beautiful moments I've ever heard, and I could hear this again and again for the rest of my life. It's definitely the most beautiful moment in the song. It's like being kissed. The whole song is like this tension of being with someone you dig who you know digs you, and the piano comes in right when there is an awkward pause in the conversation, perhaps after a really earnest compliment that tips one party's hand. For a few seconds, there is that delicious tension in the air, and then BOOM! A kiss. The wild ride of adrenaline soaring and shivering up and down your spine, that sickly sweet sensation of lust and fear that fits so perfectly with the deep resonance of the piano and, hell, of disco music in general.

"Oh baby, is this the woman I want to be? The door is unlocked, the windows are open, every time the place looks best for me. I said, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me again, kiss me again..."

Then, a shock. Everything slows down, stops. She can't seem to make up her mind, but he makes it for her. What is she doing? There is a hesitation, a concern, a quiet, savage desperation. Is this the right thing?

Then it goes berserk again, and Byrne goes fucking wild. That guitar line just embodies personal disintegration. It is clear that everything is falling apart for this woman, as she wonders aloud, "Is this the woman I want to be? Tell this what I want to be?" She is brutally breaking herself down for this relationship.

Have you ever gotten back together with someone who you shouldn't have? I think most of us have, and I think that's what this song is getting at, and the music tells the story even more than the words. But, back to the song...

We get that gorgeous cello again, that tension. Then her story begins changing, as she refers to times past in which he hurt her, pleading for kindness and love. Then she says that the first time and the last time are much too confused, and that she wants to be used. Clearly, this doesn't sound incredibly healthy, as they keep coming back here "again and again and again."

And when she returns to saying that she knows her visions are real, we look at this statement in a different manner. It is as if she has to keep telling herself this in order to maintain her sanity, her dignity, herself. There is a desperation in the music and in her voice during this repeated bridge, and we know that this is crucial for her. But what does this mean? What are these visions? Are they, in fact, real? Or is she fooling herself?

Then, following another haunting cello interlude, she wonders whether she is a woman or a toy before the song goes into a haunting, rather minimal little section that formally replaces the earlier piano segment. This part is as haunting as anything I've ever heard in any kind of dance music. Her cries of "Hey baby, is this the woman you want me to be?" come scorching directly from her soul, searing and swirling all around it into a blistering sandstorm of self-doubt and a loss of self-control. Does this dude want her to be ambiguously a woman or a toy? And the way she so defiantly yet subserviently asks what she does. She clearly feels crushed by her wondering, but will she decide for herself, as anyone should? The fact that she asks this says it all...

Then it slows down, stops, again. A moment of pause, of contemplation. A deep breath. Then, Byrne. What a fucking beast. The disintegration is even more pointed this time around, because it is undeniably there, too. She realizes it now, too. "Is this what I want to be? I don't know. Ah, tell me..." Everything has fallen apart for this woman, and her sense of self seems to be gone, lost to lust and misplaced love. All hell breaks lose after the guitar part, and after a sort of insane repetition of various mutations of "Is this what I want to be? Tell me..." she says, "But first, kiss me," and it is clear that all is lost. She has totally lost control of herself and her sense of happiness and even love.

And the brilliant thing about this song is that it's all there from the beginning. The tension embodies that intuitive feeling we have in our gut when we get (back) together with someone we know in our heart we shouldn't be, but we ignore it all for the sake of kissing them. We want to connect, we want to fuck, we want to kiss. We want somebody. And Kiss Me Again embodies that feeling of the best intentions that go awry, but we really have no one to blame but ourselves for getting involved with people we know we shouldn't. And that same initial feeling of "No, this is wrong" continues throughout the song through the musical arrangements themselves, only they build and build and give way to an increasing structure of desperation and a kind of madness, marked by the one moment of great beauty: the kiss. A kiss is almost always beautiful if you let it be, even if it's with the wrong person.

And doesn't this song also just speak to the dangers of the night life, of the boogie? Of the danger in not respecting the body and the heart? I mean, some bands (I'm thinking of Happy Mondays, first and foremost) have based their entire output on that theme, more or less. This kind of culture and lifestyle can be incredibly fun, but also dangerous if you're not prudent like George Bush, Sr.

But more than anything, I think this song is a masterwork. It's absolutely phenomenal. It's so subtle and so barn-burning at once. It's like it burns the barn to the ground, but leaves the wreckage precisely in the shape of Alfred Hitchcock's face or something. And it's thirteen fucking minutes long, with not a minute wasted. I hope you enjoy this amazing song, if you haven't heard it already.