Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Aimee Mann Experiment

I mean to post this with humility, if such a thing is not a contradiction. You've seen those people who hang out in museums with painting easels trying to copy masterworks. It's kind of a cool thing to do. But the people doing that probably don't show those paintings to people and say, "Look at this cool thing I made!" For one thing, most of them probably hope to spend the rest of their time in this life maybe one day good enough to scrub the brushes of one of those Dutch guys. For another, they realize that they haven't actually broken an artistic sweat. It's the original artist that did all the heavy lifting. It's a little like being born rich and thinking you did something to deserve that.

There's one more incentive I have to be more apologetic about this if I don't want to look too dopey. Aimee Mann, in addition to being a sublime songwriter, is one of the greatest vocalists ever recorded. I'm the greatest singer in my shower only on a good day. (That's a day when my thunder-traumatized dog doesn't climb into the shower with me during a rainstorm. It occurs to me only just now that I probably should stop taking showers during electrical storms.)

On Aimee's soundtrack album to Paul Thomas Anderson's movie "Magnolia" there is an instrumental version of her great song "Nothing is Good Enough," which would later appear on her album, "Bachelor No. 2." Paul Thomas Anderson is to me, my favorite movie director, who's art I regard with reverence  even though, and maybe even, in part, because, his father, played a guy named Ghoulardi and wore a fright wig when showing horror movies on Channel 8 when I was growing up in Cleveland.

To make this video, all I did was import the stand-alone instrumental track from iTunes to a basic track in Garageband, then I started taking over the song like a squater in a luxury appartment, layering on vocals, a reverb/pop lead vocal, a copy of that, some gospel voice oooh, ahhh harmonies, even a megaphone nasal line or two, just to make it interesting. I raised and lowered the volume of these' tracks depending on what was supposed to be building up, or whether the main vocal was supposed to be delivering the lyric cleanly at the beginning of the verse. I'm really a primitive as far as mixing and mastering goes. I throw in too much, and it gets muddy and I still pile on more--but that's small potatoes compared to the damage I do by discarding Aimee's vocal tracks with her unmatched tonal purity and her Virginia regional accent that sounds exactly like this girl I knew in college. To top it off, I replace it with my nasal, reedy, limited-ranged, tenor instrument. This is where the humility comes in, or should.

To make the visuals, I just went outside and lip synched the song while listening to the recording in headphones while holding the camera an arm's length from my face. If you think it was easy to synchronize the recording you're crazy--or rather it's me that's crazy. It took more than 14 ten minute tries of nudging the soundtrack in 10th of a second increments around the 3 second mark. It probably still looks like a dubbed Japanese Godzilla movie, but that's the best I plan to do for now.

The "Magnolia" soundtrack album, by the way, also contained the song "Save Me" that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1999, losing out to  "You'll Be in My Heart" from the Disney movie "Tarzan", which I'm sure is a super swell song too.  Was "Save Me" good enough to deserve an Academy Award? If it isn't, then Nothing is Good Enough, I'd say.