Not As Simple As You’d Think

Jim O’Rourke – Simple Songs

If you skip reading this, I do not blame you.  Because for a long time, whenever I’d come across the name Jim O’Rourke, even despite the fact that he’d aligned himself with plenty of artists I like and/or respect, I never really felt the need to give the guy a shot.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that the word “experimental” was one descriptor that’d come up whenever I’d see some stray Pitchfork piece mentioning the guy, while “experimental” in regards to my musical taste usually translates to “thing I do not need to waste my time listening to”.  But I’ve recently been getting into him, maybe due to Wilco having a new album out, while O’Rourke, a frequent collaborator of the venerable Chicago act also recently released an album that’s been well-received by critics, who among other indie rock musicians seem to be the only people that tend to listen to Jim O’Rourke albums.  Thankfully, the guy has a lot more in common with, say Wilco than whatever kinetic noodling I was expecting his music to sound like, so much so that I’ve also been checking out his back catalogue in addition to Simple Songs, his first proper album in six years.

I suppose O’Rourke’s ties to experimental or electronic music seems to be more tied to whatever independent releases he’s been putting out on his website, since the more song-based stuff of his I’ve listened to (all released on the Drag City label) are pretty approachable.  I suppose the most radical thing about O’Rourke’s music, and perhaps the reason I’d never quite felt the urge to check it out, is that it is a little bit hard to categorize.  There’s no mistaking it as guitar-based rock music, for sure.  But O’Rourke’s songs, and particularly the ones on Simple Songs are this unique hybrid of folk/roots-rock/indie/prog and whatever else, which sounds like it should be terrible, but O’Rourke seems to be such a sharp curator of different sounds that it’s no wonder he’s had such a varied and respected career as a producer.

Simple Songs gets even harder to pin down with its last few tracks “End Of The Road” and “All Your Love”, which have a kind of disarming orchestral sweep, but that’s fine, Jim O’Rourke is clearly the kind of guy who’s not doing this for anyone but himself.  He’s a guy who’s applied his understanding of music in a lot of different capacities and clearly doesn’t see there as just being one way to approach music, and it’s hard not to respect guys like that who march to the beat of their own drum.  The song “Last Year” could even be seen as O’Rourke’s own indictment of this ethos, as he sings “Hey, he’s an artist. / He’s committed to his craft. / I wouldn’t last a day, not out here. / Hey, not to be heartless.  I think he does it for a laugh.”  Only problem is, it’s hard to believe anything on Simple Songs is done for a laugh when there’s so much care and precision involved, even if it is just a thing that other indie rock musicians and critics (including amateur ones like myself) will care about.

Favorite Tracks: “Friends With Benefits”, “Last Year”, “All Your Love”

The Smallest Man on Earth


If you’re reading this, I’ve got some bad news: someday you will die. I don’t mean that reading this will cause your death, that’s exceptionally unlikely, but eventually your body will stop working. Few of us know when that will happen, most of us prefer not to think about it. All we’ve got is an ever-shrinking, Ant-Man-like, window in which we try to experience whatever we can.

So why waste your time doing something a second time? Or twelve times? It seems kind of hedonistic, doesn’t it? If you’ve already eaten that cheeseburger, listened to that album, watched that movie, smoked that drug, played on that beach, hiked that trail, or whatever, why would you want to do it again? There are songs I’ve listened to so many times I know them by heart, so why do I still listen to them? Haven’t I gone to Dick’s in Seattle enough yet? What have I got to gain? I’m dying. We all are.

But don’t deny human nature. I think the truth is that a lot of people, like myself, aren’t actually trying to get the most out of life. We are not trying to have done the most with our lives, we are trying to have enjoyed most of what we’ve done. Instead of a life full of peaks and valleys, we settle for a steady plateau. We may not see the world from atop Everest, but at least we’re not drowning in the Marianas Trench either.

Disney knows the Marvel Cinematic Universe will one day die too. The whole narrative of Phase Two was about when the super hero bubble will burst. We still don’t know when. Marvel’s planned out another half decade worth of movies, they plan to live at least that much longer. They’re overconfident, and a little bit scared.

Sometime in your life you will face a fork in the road and not know which way to go. It will feel like you’ve just as much reason to travel down one path as you do the other. Maybe you’ve already had that experience. Eventually, you’ll make your choice and even if everything works out perfectly, you’ll still wonder what could have been. And you’ll never get to know; that’s life.

Edgar Wright’s life was leading him to making an Ant-Man movie. He had spent decades developing as a writer and a director, establishing himself as someone who could do a genre movie, someone who could deliver on laughs and action, someone who could adapt a comic. Supposedly he was working on an Ant-Man script as far back as 2006, before Disney owned Marvel or the first Iron Man had come out. He eventually got the job, wrote what was called the best script Marvel ever had, hired an awesome cast, and then walked away from the project at the last minute.

Edgar Wright faced a fork in the road: he could give up some of his creative control or walk away, knowing that for the rest of his life, he would be haunted by Ant-Man regardless. He walked and Marvel hired a yes man, Yes Man director Peyton Reed, to take his place. Reed, stuck in a shitty situation, did his best to make a fun, inventive movie using the scraps Wright left behind. The cast was still great, the overall idea of the story was still fun, and, per Marvel’s orders, there were several large references to the MCU. I’m ashamed to admit I enjoyed those nods and cameos.

Is that enough? Is this hodgepodge of four creative visions – Edgar Wright’s original script, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd’s rewrite, and Peyton Reed’s direction – worth your precious time? That’s up to you. For me, the answer is yes, and probably always was going to be yes. As a comedy/heist movie, Ant-Man is different and clever enough that I was happy to have seen it and rank it in the middle of all the MCU movies.

That’s me though. My time, my life. I still eat at Dick’s because you need to eat to live and sometimes you don’t want to worry about where to go and a deluxe tastes really good. It’s not really profound, but not everything has to be. I’m just out here trying to fill my dwindling time with all the things and people that I love. I hope you’re doing the same.