Cultural Consumption: 3/11/24

Goodbye to a jumbo talent

Cultural Consumption: 3/11/24
It's a world party, you see

Greetings from the side of the country opposite from the one where I reside! I am jet lagged and preoccupied with work stuff, which is appropriate because work stuff is what I'm here to do; even still, the last business trip took me out of commission for the full week, and I'm trying to keep that from happening again, so here we are.

Lots of listening today, much of it of the decidedly inactive variety, although the news of Karl Wallinger's passing has put me in a World Party kind of mood for the last couple of hours. This isn't a mood I've ever really been in before; Wallinger's songwriting aesthetic is something I've long found it easy to appreciate from a distance, but more often than not, I was left lukewarm by a sound that struck me as extremely insular and distractingly indebted to the Beatles. Of course, these are qualities that World Party fans wouldn't deny; it's just that for those who've long recognized Wallinger as a genius, they were selling points rather than drawbacks.

The first song that righted my ship and started it sailing toward World Party's shores was — big surprise — "She's the One," a cut from 1997's Egyptology LP that bears the dual distinctions of being A) impossibly lovely and B) a hit for Robbie Williams, who covered it a couple of years later (and allegedly spent years claiming he'd written it). Happily, I didn't come to "She's the One" through Williams' cover; instead, I'm relatively certain I heard it while watching the mostly forgotten Jeanine Garofalo movie The Matchmaker, and sought out the source material from there.

"She's the One" is no more or less Beatles-indebted than anything else in Wallinger's song catalog, but this was an extreme case of the right music at the right moment, and it sent me scurrying to hear the rest of Egyptology. Unfortunately, I didn't hear anything that lit me up like that particular track, and I'm pretty sure I ended up sacrificing it during one of countless shelf-clearing treks to my local used CD emporium.

Anyway, the point is that I'm the last person to write a Karl Wallinger obituary, but the circumstances being what they are, I can't be anything but truthful with you today when it comes to what I'm listening to and why. And I don't know if it's time, distance, or the agonizingly slow yet presumably steady accrual of wisdom over several decades, but playing these records back today, I can finally hear some of what Wallinger's fans have been hearing since he split from the Waterboys back in the '80s — if none of it makes me see the world in a new way, it's all crafted with care and precision, with full-bodied production that's often at least as interesting as the songs themselves. If you've never found the time to listen to World Party's 1990 album Goodbye Jumbo, then make today the day.

Watching: This morning's workout found me accompanied by the latest Curb Your Enthusiasm, which involves the Gettysburg Address, dicks on a billboard, false all-you-can-eat buffets, and Lori Loughlin; following that, I got caught up with Abbott Elementary by watching the most recent episode, in which the school is named a site of historical significance and Bradley Cooper stops by for a minute.

Reading: The good thing about buying Kindle books is that you can fit a bunch of them on one device without having to worry about finding room for physical books in your luggage or whatever. The bad thing is that unless you make a point of looking at the page count, you may not know what you're in for when you start reading something. I say this as a way of explaining that even after spending a full four hours of my flight reading Flannery O'Connor's collected works, I'm still not done with the book — and also of explaining why, toward the end of the flight, I allowed myself the indulgence of breaking away for a bit to peek at What a Fool Believes, the soon-to-be-published memoir from five-time Grammy winner Michael McDonald. I'm sure I'll spend a lot of time talking about this book through various avenues at some point; for now, I will just say that if you're a McDonald fan, it's absolutely worth pre-ordering.