Schnipper’s Slept On

September 29, 2009

Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire’s Lost Wisdom. Buy it and get a giant foldout poster and a record that will simultaneous crush you and revive your spirit, like a confused phoenix. Read Schnipper’s thoughts on it after the jump.

In an old issue of Fantastic Man magazine, they interview Pierre Cardin, now 86 and quite a pistol. All of the questions are blunt and well-researched, the interviewer Philip Utz once responding to Cardin’s self-aggrandizing (deserved or not) by wondering if Cardin might by a megalomaniac. Cardin responds by saying he has long remained in the shadows behind Yves Saint Laurent, using quickly the words “grace,” “longevity” and “genius.” That is the end of that.

Cardin’s humanitarian warm regard, a respect he duly extends back to himself, is his kindest quality. He has a practical, honest elder statesman’s view of his career, life and the lives of those around him. When Utz shifts his tense from present to past—after asking about Cardin’s current sex life—and asks “Who was the greatest love of your life?”, Cardin doesn’t flinch before answering André Oliver. “We were partners for over 20 years, and he was the most dazzling, extraordinary man I ever met. I was completely in awe of him,” Cardin says. “People were drawn to him like pins to a magnet. He had so many qualities—he was dapper, genial, articulate, urbane—and was always excessively generous. His sense of humor was quite unique. Contrary to most of fashion’s greatest wits, he could make people smile without poking fun.” Cardin then says that he “never fully recovered” from Oliver’s death from AIDS in 1993, now 16 years ago.

By all accounts, Oliver’s professional relationship with Pierre Cardin—both the person and the brand—was one of total integration, Oliver even joining Cardin to take the ceremonial bow after presenting at shows. And, as far as I can tell, they were romantic partners, as well, though nowhere I can find (admittedly, through the internet) speaks explicitly about their relationship. Cardin, always clear with his language, uses the word “partner” when talking about his business partner. He has no problem discussing the failure of Jeanne Moreau to conceive when they were a couple, so the shyness about Oliver seems to have some purpose. Though at first quite bright, none of his adjectives about Oliver could not be used to describe a close friend. The closest description of their relationship I can find comes from James Brady, who says that when Oliver was in the army, Cardin flew him home every weekend, but only to work on clothes. He then says when Cardin fell in “inexplicably” with Moreau, Oliver threatened suicide, but even that comes right to the edge without jumping. Possibly I am being naïve, or I am just uneducated in great loves of fashion’s 20th century, but I enjoy the oddly cloaked nature of their private, personal relationship contrasting with the power both clearly garnered from their public, business relationship. Mostly though, I just like a little mystery magic to spice things up.

Though I have absolutely no evidence of this, and not even any suggestion, like with Oliver and Cardin, I wonder if Phil Elverum and Julie Doiron ever dated—before, during or after they made Lost Wisdom. I have no reason to believe they did, but an album as intimate as this—even one as completely bereft of joyful space—prompts that question. Elverum, who has recorded as The Microphones and, for Lost Wisdom, as Mount Eerie, makes romantic songs. Through the ether, I believe I know that he was at one point linked with Khaela Maricich, with whom he recorded music. She played on his kitchen-sink-percussion album Glow Pt 2, which made a lot of people cry and proclaim the end of/beginning of music. But I don’t know what she did, tacitly as a musician or ethereally as a partner. Just like Oliver and Cardin, their output, finally, is what matters. But the cloudy swirl behind it is what brings in the prime time viewers.

Lost Wisdom is officially credited to Phil Elverum as Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron and Fred Squire. Even after seeing the three of them perform most of the album, I’m not really sure what Squire’s participation was. I believe he played acoustic guitar extras, extra ornaments on an already very pretty tree. I mean no slight, simply that the heart of Lost Wisdom is the chemistry between the voices of Elverum and Doiron. Much of the album they sing together, same melody and lyrics plopped on top of each other, separate but parallel experiences like traffic on a highway. I saw your picture out of nowhere and forgot what I was doing/ Everything vanished in your eclipse. It’s as though made a musical out of a breakup, and as natural and barren as it is seems, its either theirs or they are great actors. I’ll believe either one.

To take a brief break, I want to say that I have spent every last Tuesday in recent memory toting Lost Wisdom to and from work with the intent of writing about it. But I’ve been so spooked about trying to synthesize the experience of listening to this record, of its simple existence, that I have shied away completely. In a silly way, Pierre Cardin’s exactitude is a bit of an inspiration for swift praise for those you love, for whatever you love. But these songs are so fluid and lucid that pinpointing them with specific words, adjectives and adverbs is shooting in the dark. “Writing about that record is like writing about suffocating,” my friend Simon says. That’s a little deep end for me, but the sentiment is correct, a completely encompassing and incomprehensible feeling. Not that I have ever been suffocated. Let’s try this again: I was also motivated to write about this record not just by Cardin's astonishing and lucid take on life and love (same thing), but by this blog post, or, more specifically this Twitter entry. “Would like to remind everyone that the ‘Girls’ album is just ‘pretty good.’ #7,” it read, which made me feel a lot of different bad things all at once, none— I want to note clearly—having to do with the fact that someone thought a record was not bad but not great. They all had something to do with 30 years of musical growth, thought, subsistence and outbound nourishment into a score settled by someone saying, FYI, my taste says you are wrong, curb your praise and wild heart-pounding. Full disclosure, I guess, I really like the Girls record. Here’s another pantomime at my point: in the back of our magazine we printed a small photo of Chris, Girls’ main songwriter, high as fuck walking around in an overgrown rose garden greenhouse, sun filtering in through dirty glass, except when it streamed where the glass was broken. That says basically the same thing as the story I wrote about them, no simple grade or long wondering, just deep red and pale white. That is an easy out, clearly, but I simply see nothing but regression and colorless peril if quick and curt one-upsmanship is what new media provides. I’d rather go back to writing a fanzine and working in sales. Worked okay before, or at least the heartaches were less acute.

Anyway, back to Pierre Cardin. What he ends his interview with is choosing to say, “The difference between a garden-variety artist and a great master is that you only need take one glance at a masterpiece to know who painted it.” He is, of course, talking about himself and his clothes, a self-pat on the back from a man who apparently has plenty of dissenters. Can you let one slide at 86? Sure, but I don’t imagine he was much different at a younger age, and that panache is crucial. Lost Wisdom holds a similar zest, though without the pomp. My friend Simon said suffocation for a reason, and that is because so much of the album is just black. I used to know you/ now I don’t, Doiron sings on her own, one of the album’s few moments of separation designating such a wild solitude. Rightfully or not, I’ve recently begun to associate this album with the Sonic Youth song and video “Shadow of Doubt.” In the video, Kim Gordon (longtime romantic partner of bandmate Thurston Moore), rides alone on the top of a train through some sad woods in a washed out green and pink, asking for a kiss in a desperate hush. There’s something forever fulfilling in these views into other’s emptiness. Cardin is at his most heartbreakingly succinct when he says he was “shell-shocked” by Oliver’s death. It’s better to have loved and lost, etc. After that, I don’t really want to talk about it.

From The Collection:

Slept On
Schnipper’s Slept On