Saturday, August 31, 2013

People Who Died

Ian I miss you more than all the others. I salute you, my brother!

Jim Carroll was a poet who drifted into music under the influence of Patti Smith. Despite a lack of commercial success for his music, he lucked into having a song from his debut album, "People Who Died", included on the soundtrack to, of all things, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, earning him royalties for the rest of his life. Later on his acclaimed 1978 novel The Basketball Diaries would be turned into a meaninglessly controversial Leo DiCaprio film and would eclipse the rest of his work in popular imagination.

Then our man covered it in 1995 for the soundtrack to Antártida, an obscure Spanish film for which Cale composed the whole soundtrack (which as you might expect features several variations on "Antartica Starts Here"). Why? Who knows. Basketball Diaries fever, perhaps. But wow the band he put together: Chris Spedding of 70s solo notoriety, roving bassist Erik Sanko (who also worked with Carroll), and, oh, just Moe Tucker and Sterling Morrison.

Cale's version loses the demented celebration that is the original's chorus and is really the main reason the people who love the song do. His vocals are very restrained and precise, lending the song a bizarrely nerdy feel. And yet... I can't dislike it. Obviously I'm addicted to his voice. But calming the song down helps amplify the hot spots in the verses Cale used. Cutting it down to the first three verses doesn't really hurt the song - in Carroll's version the additional and repeated verses seem like padding to justify doing the chorus over and over, louder and crazier each time. (Works for Carroll, wouldn't have for Cale.) I admit I've always been disappointed by Cale's flat affect in the emotional high point of the song for me: "Eddie I miss you more than all the others - I salute you, my brother!"

Instrumentally the band pulls it out pretty well. The lead guitar part floats new-wavily above the mix in a pleasing way, and the basic track chugs along sweetly. Moe seems to get some backing vocals in, but they're mixed way low if they are really there. It's not a stellar reunion, but it's not an embarrassing one.

Sterling Morrison died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma soon after the recording. Carroll left us in 2009 from a heart attack working at his desk. Two more friends who died.

Carroll version video from the Leo flick after the jump.

(Skip to 1m20s if you want to miss the meatheads.)

P.S. How does one OD on Drano? Apparently buying heroin from the wrong dealer, i.e. a "hot shot." Jesus what a way to die.