Music Nerd Post, or My Sunday Sermon About the Importance of the Walkmen

One of the many benefits of being a music nerd, er, journalist is the sheer amount of music that passes through my home and ears. 69% of it is complete hogwash, 25% is passable but rarely warrants repeat listens. The remaining 6% becomes a staple in my healthy diet of clickity-clackity-chugga-chugga. It is this minimal chance that I live for – people, this is my lottery, though it’s free. Best lottery ever. I wouldn’t say that it’s my booze because that would be booze.

Every once in a blue moon I get a CD, mp3, or whatever the label wants to give me, of a band that I am already familiar with. This happened recently with a magazine that I haven’t written for in over a year, yet I still get loads of music from (via a secret link to a secret website that has an enormous list of full albums for download…score) and, for obvious reasons, I haven’t filled them in on this fact. Included in this last “shipment” was the long-awaited follow up to the Walkmen’s A Hundred Miles Off, entitled You & Me. Being the music hermit that I’ve become (I shouldn’t say become, after all it was a teenage me that spent nearly every night in my room in front of the stereo, between the pages of music zines [Creature, the Christian Death Metal zine was a favorite], learning Hendrix tabs, or watching things as horrid as Tourniquet‘s Video Biopsy whilst marveling at their metal shenanigans, all caught on home video [not typical metal shenanigans, mind you, but CHRISTIAN metal shenanigans like funny voices, hanging out, and practicing].) I nearly passed gas all over my britches. If one can’t surmise from my near-wind-breaking, I’m a fan. In my mind I’ve built up an imaginary relationship with these guys. An ex-girlfriend went so far as to call them my boyfriends. And I didn’t argue. Since then, I’ve called them the same.


  1. Slayer (duh, it’s Slayer)
  2. Tom Waits (he actually owns the night, for chrissakes)
  3. Don Knotts (this is entirely unexplainable, but his name seems to come up quite a bit in my conversations, i.e., “What would Don Knotts do?”)
  4. Bob Odenkirk (master of comedy and, for one reason or another when he screams it completes me)
  5. Harry Nilsson (anyone that uses a choir of elderly people to sing a song titled, “I’d Rather be Dead,” complete with lines such as, “I’ll tie my tie/’Till the day I die/But if I have to be fed/Than I’d rather be dead,” is an ace pilot to me.)

Now, these Walkmen gents…it was 2002 when my pally Patrick clued me in on their awe-inspiring debut Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone. I didn’t know what to make of the sparse instrumentation (“The piano sounds like it’s in my bathroom right now.”) and Hamilton’s voice, a long nasal drawl learned from (my guess) years and years of not being able to sing very well (though his voice sounds nearly identical in his last outfit, the Recoys, circa late 90s), didn’t really grasp me on the first few listens. It was just that I had never heard anything so disconnected, swirling, and ballsy. It was only after a few months of constant rotation (and the climbing feeling that I realized that I was already becoming a rabid fan, if not obsessed) that I discovered that they have that thing that makes music eternal; over time the songs actually change. Listening to “We’ve Been Had” today is not the same as listening to it then. It evokes no memories, no regrets. It is as poignant now as it was then. Timeless might be a better word for it.

While in the studio with my old band, Patrick and I played for our producer Everyone… and his explanations on how they got this sound and what-not deepened my affection and wonder even more.

Their follow-up, the much touted Bows + Arrows, caught on as slowly as Everyone…. The expansive sounds remained, but a more “rock” approach hindered my smiling at first. Again, hours and hours of relentless sitting with headphones on 11 (something not good for the ears, but wonderful for the soul) opened up the songs in a way that I began to understand them more fully, I think. They had actually progressed, and not vice-versa like I first thought. The lyrics had more of a storyline than before (which were more of statements such as, “I don’t care much for the go-go/Or the retro image I see so often/Telling me to keep trying,” from “We’ve Been Had”) where people are actually living and breathing, waiting for trains, and pounding on the door because, “Goddamn it, baby, it ain’t over yet.” (Those are not lyrics, just my interpretation of the events surrounding the song, “The Rat.”) Damn it guys, you’ve trumped my taste again.

Rumors began circling of their next album, A Hundred Miles Off, and I honestly worried about what was to happen to my precious Walkmen. A friend told me that he read that Walter (keys) and Peter (bass) had traded instruments to “give it a different feel,” or some bullshit like that. “Fuck, they’ve run out of ideas. That’s really the only thing they could come up with?” The album dropped and I was there on the blessed Tuesday, an important day for music fuckheads like me, and I sat in front of the stereo afraid to play the album. Honestly. “Louisiana” opened and out of nowhere came a cowboy saloon piano and Mexican-ish horn section (which they reproduce live by asking local horn players to join them onstage, with a little forewarning and planning, of course) and I was still worried. Yes, I loved the song but what is coming? Just one of my favorite songs ever recorded, “All Hands and the Cook.” To this day I’ve never heard anything so dissonant, deconstructed, revengeful, regretful, and apathetic as this sonofabitch. Here they’ve regressed, lyrically, to Everyone… in that it is merely a statement and not a story. The sheer scope and beauty, though, is astounding. Two trudging, pulsating parts border the single “chorus” in what appears to be a manic episode. For some reason, this “chorus,” fills my heart with glee. Maybe I’ve felt it, in this order? Who knows: “Stop talking to the neighbor’s dog/I’ve got a temper when it’s late/Break all the windows in my car/Burn down the room when (where?) I’m asleep/Break out the bottles when I go/I’ll dig a hole for all your friends” Maybe it’s just that pulsating bass. Maybe it’s the desperation to retaliate and also give up at the same time. I’ll never know. I had to accept that my taste, and judgment, were trumped yet again.

I knew the Taste of Randolph street festival was going to be wonder for two reasons:

  1. At the time my friend, Suzanne, worked for Whole Foods, who also happened to be a major sponsor for the event, which meant free entry and beer for me, and
  2. The Walkmen were performing

We crowded to the front and waited. They took the stage in suited glory and opened with, you guessed it, “All Hands…” That was my cue to make this the “Best Saturday Ever.” I got drunk, jumped into the lake, and broke my foot. Thanks, Walkmen. (Now, I don’t blame them, really. It was the aforementioned booze that told me that everything would be fine if I lept with abandoned glory.)

Back onto A Hundred Miles Off…, who closes an epic album with a cover from an unknown band such as Mazarin? The Men, that’s who. And it’s a right good song at that. Though Mazarin doesn’t do it nearly as well.

Now comes the time when the Walkmen surprise me moreso than I thought even possible. The press release merely said that they were going to do a song-by-song cover of Harry Nilsson’s unknown Pussy Cats. The original was recorded during Lennon’s (and Nilsson’s) “Lost weekend,” when both were recently left by their significant others. I was unaware that they were Nilsson fans and I had not expected it. After all, who is a Nilsson fan? Who knows him? Sure, everyone loves the song “One” but think it is a Three Dog Night song. Or an Aimee Mann soundtrack gem. (It is taking all of my gusto to not start penning about Nilsson, my #1 boyfriend when it comes down to it.)

Sure, it was overlooked as bait for their next full-length. The reviews were so-so (it was noted time and time again that they didn’t “do anything” to the songs…but what can you do to a Nilsson tune? Sit back and hush up, and that’s it) and it was merely passed over for the next big thing. No, they did nothing to the songs. They mimicked every sound and mood in each song perfectly. As an homage to their original Maracata studio, it was perfect. Friends, booze, rolling tapes, and percussion instruments galore conveyed exactly what they, and I, wanted when the idea first became realized.

These guys have balls.

Now, to the point. This new record that I’ve mistakenly gotten my grubby paws on (not illegally, mind you) has already eschewed its way into the top spot. It may be a little unfair, though, in that I decided, after realizing Bows + Arrows that anything they put out is going to be ground-shaking and tear-welling, at least in my world. I won’t go into it, either, as I can’t. My official review will be published elsewhere in due time, and as a freelancer it is kind of understood that you don’t write the same articles in two different places.

Just listen, for a second, and I can assure you, as a possible Walkmen fan, that you will be perplexed, dumbfounded, and equally elated at what these Men have been up to in these years since their last original excursion rocked little more than my own world.

Enjoy this bit from the Taste of Randolph (“Look Out the Window,” from the Walkmen/Calla Split):

6 Responses to “Music Nerd Post, or My Sunday Sermon About the Importance of the Walkmen”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] – 7:06am: Ride the bus and listen to either a)my latest obsession, most recently the Walkmen’s new album, or b)something I have to review. I am looking at the sun during this time, […]

  2. Nerd Bookmarks… user has just tagged your post as nerd!…

  3. […] As mentioned before, I like these guys. So much so that I turned down the opportunity to review their live show, reason being that even if they played a bad show I would love it. I settled for the opening band. […]

  4. […] Walkmen live are always a sight to behold. I’ve shared their greatness here and here. Sure, the electricity of the crowd is fantastic and so is watching them pull it off live, but when […]

  5. […] was an intentional theft…just pointing out something I thought was awesome as I am a rabid fan of both.) Delve deeper into the song…yes, now the chants have a heartbeat much like the […]

  6. […] many, many times before, these fellows are my favorite modern non-metal band. (Longer explanation here.) Obviously I have been waiting with bated breath for their follow up to 2008′s You & Me […]

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