A few weeks ago my youngest son, Connor, asked if he could write a guest post for me about a song from the band LCD Soundsystem that was very meaningful for him. Although I was unfamiliar with the band, I was intrigued by the back story behind the song, and was excited for him to share it with you. I’ve included a link to “black screen” at the bottom of the post so that you can listen to it…
How do I describe LCD Soundsystem? They encapsulate every genre, pluck at your emotions, and challenge you to embrace their phantasmic walls of sound. But at the core of all the B-52’s and Brian Eno samples, we find the bear-like James Murphy. He resembles a college professor who would quote Pynchon or Barthelme, rather than the frontman of a band who sold out Madison Square Garden when they decided that the group’s time had come to an end. During what seemed to be the band’s dissolution, Murphy befriended and worked with his idol David Bowie on his last two albums: The Next Day and Blackstar. Bowie died two days after the release of Blackstar.
LCD Soundsystem reunited not long after and released the album American Dream. James Murphy cited Bowie as one of the people who strongly encouraged their reunion. Murphy went on to have several interviews where he detailed his brief but fascinating friendship with Bowie, but we don’t truly appreciate the full extent of their relationship until we listen to “black screen,” which is the final track on American Dream. The twelve minute song is believed to be about Murphy’s last days with Bowie and what transpired during the time they spent together. Murphy is lamenting over the loss of a man who fell between “a friend and a father,” however, this song is not simply about his grief over losing Bowie, but more importantly, it is about regret for the things that he left unsaid while Bowie was still alive.
Bowie wanted more from Murphy in terms of further professional collaboration, but Murphy had a hard time believing he was good enough. How often in life can we not get out of our own way? How do we break free from the shackles of our mind and all the dark shadows that trail within it that are constant reminders of our own inadequacies? He froze up. His hands “kept pushing down in [his] pockets.” It is a rare and wonderful thing to be invited into someone else’s world, and to be granted access to their artistic vision. In that place they begin treating us differently. Every word we say actually becomes heard, considered, and relevant. Suddenly we are important, we are glowing, and we’ve found our place. It is only when the lights turn back on, and we are asked to leave their world that we truly realize the significance of it all. It is not what we said or did while we were there but rather the things that we didn’t say or do. We’re left with no choice but to stare in from the outside and wish that we had acted differently. We want so much for the person who is gone to have realized how much it meant that they’d let us in. But we have to walk away, our hands plunging deeper into our pockets, searching for someone else to invite us in. Someone to want more from us. Someone to talk to us…like we are inside.
Back to my voice now… For today’s cocktail, I wanted something stark and simple that had potency and just a bit of sweetness, and a color that would call to mind the cover of the album American Dream. I thought of a cocktail that I’d made back in the spring called Oxygen Thief that was meant to represent the harsh climbing conditions of Mt. Everest. It was a martini that was blue like the sky and served very cold. It seems to me that once James Murphy found himself in a world where David Bowie no longer existed, he must have felt a similar chill settling over him. I changed the ingredients just slightly by making vodka the base, and by adding a Douglas Fir Eau-de-Vie instead of the Dolin Dry vermouth that I’d used in the original drink. The fir tree is a symbol of a tower of truth, and since regret often makes us confront certain truths about ourselves, I thought it fit quite well. I kept the blue curaçao for its color and because it could serve as a reminder of the sweetness of memory. The end result was a drink that was powerful and just on the edge of being too much to handle, but isn’t that often how we feel when we look back on words we left unsaid? Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday.
Add all three ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with an orange strip. Enjoy!