Discover more from Deep Voices
Deep Voices #69
You can't put your arms around music
It’s been three years since I started doing Deep Voices. A little more. They’ve shown me both that the world is enormous and so, so small. The last song on this edition’s playlist is called “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and that is absolutely true. But you can’t put your arms around music either and it’s still pretty good.
When I started writing about this playlist, I did not expect it to go where it did. I really like all the music on here. I really like the collective vibe! It took a long time to fit together but I think it does. I hope the whole thing feels a little ancient, a little romantic, a little airy. Music lined with lace. Unfussy, pretty music. Pastoral music. Green, open. But I found out about the death of one of the artists on the playlist and so instead of waxing poetic on the individual songs, I wrote about that. Anyone who has been reading Deep Voices for a time will know how much death has shaped my relationship with music, with everything. So it felt unavoidable to write about. I don’t have any great moral here, but I was stopped in my tracks and I felt a need to look around.
I hope you’ll consider pledging your support of Deep Voices! Thank you for reading and listening.
I met Joe Grimm after he finished Yale, when he was living in Rhode Island getting a Ph.D in experimental music composition at Brown. When I was in college, he hosted a friend’s band that I was traveling with. He has a nice house and he took us to a diner. He played a solo set on either violin or viola with electronics. I remember he explained to me the computer program Max MSP. He was basically saying you have a blank screen and can do anything. It sounded completely impossible to me. This was probably 2002 or 2003; at that point I was struggling to understand text messaging. In my opinion, he was a genius.
I remember running into him in Union Square a couple years later. I was so excited and he seemed so, too. He remembered me! But we lost touch, not that we were ever too deeply in it. And then at some point I found out he’d started a beer company.
If you’re familiar with Grimm Ales, you don’t need me to explain how big and beloved of an endeavor it is. If you’re not, well, they are big and beloved. They have an enormous brewery in Brooklyn and I recently read about how they are going to be starting a pizza restaurant. Or, apizza, more specifically. It’s what pizza is called in New Haven. Joe says he fell in love with the taste while at Yale.
Reading about the new endeavor made me excited for Joe and put me a bit in awe of the path life takes. I know, I know, duh. But it seemed wild to me that I’d be casually reading about a new pizza place in the New York Times and know the guy opening it because two decades earlier we’d been connected by experimental music. Sometimes music makes me feel lucky.
Thinking about New Haven and Joe, I revisited the band he was in during his time at Yale, 33.3. They were an instrumental group, an indie rock band ostensibly, but a playful one. “Oval Cast As Circle” is a nice anchor in the playlist, guitar music with horns and strings. Post-rock is the most accurate subgenre, college students giving a swinging take on the small orchestral sound largely drifting out of Chicago. It’s a miracle the music isn’t more self-serious, but it’s not. Plays Music is one of their album titles, as in 33.3 plays music. Like, yep, that’s what we’re doing up here. As if we couldn’t tell. After post-modern, is this what happens? I mean, I definitely like it. I prefer earnestness to irony. It’s smart music aware of its smarts. Not showy, but not bashful. Why couch earned pride? A lesson I am still trying to learn.
Listening, I wondered what happened to the other members of the band. Joe’s journey had been so winding, what of theirs? 33.3’s cellist Dominique Davison runs DRAW, an architecture firm in Kansas City, Missouri. “Dominique is dedicated to social and environmental equity and endeavors to improve people’s lives through inspired, resourceful design.” Guitarist Brian Alfred is a painter who also helms a podcast (that he turned into a book) that I absolutely need to check out, Why I Make Art. I wasn’t able to track down what bassist William Noland is up to. And then I was stopped in my tracks and extremely, extremely sad to read that the band’s drummer Steven Walls died in a car accident six years ago, at the age of 46. He was a father.
I read his obituary and I hope you will, too. “Steven always looked back on his time at Yale with fondness,” it writes. “He loved being so immersed in art and art-making and befriending other artist’s who were just as driven and serious about art as he was.” Of his time teaching, it says, “He made things seem possible; he elevated art by making it accessible to everyone.” That’s what I’m trying to do here, to be honest. He seems like he was the type of person I want to be. I didn’t know him, and I don’t feel like it’s my place to narrate a life I was not a part of. But just like I feel lucky to know Joe, to see the turns his life has taken. Without knowing him, I feel similar reading about Steven, and being able, still, to be touched by him. To do my best to reach my hand back out.