Live: Philip Glass Shows Off His Influence At ISSUE Project Room

Philip Glass w/Nate Wooley, Antoine Silverman, and Stephin Merritt
ISSUE Project Room
Wednesday, June 13

Better than: The sound of one hand clapping.

Philip Glass spoke briefly. It was to be expected from a minimalist so staunch that he chooses not to identify himself with the movement he helped define. He sat down at the piano, all Zen calm, and began to coax out trance-inducing arpeggios, emotion recollected in tranquility yet cold as his namesake, with the brilliant awkwardness of Glenn Gould and the fiery charisma of Freddie Mercury. Just as Mr. Miyagi found a beautiful simplicity in painting a picket fence in The Karate Kid, Glass finds so much in so little.

They say that an artist sits in a room surrounded by all his influences, then one by one they leave until he's all alone, and finally, he exits the room altogether. Cocteau and Cage couldn't be there, but at a spry 75, the elder statesman of contemporary classical still seeks inspiration in many of those he inspired. Among these acolytes are avant-noise trumpeter Nate Wooley, violinist Antoine Silverman, and Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt, all of whom wouldn't ordinarily share a stage. But in the first of a three-night series devoted to Glass's sweeping legacy and collaborations, he provided a common denominator that transcends genre.

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Q&A: Stephin Merritt On His Favorite Gear, His Reasons For The No-Synth Trilogy, And Being Scooped By Trent Reznor

The Magnetic Fields' new album Love At The Bottom Of The Sea (Merge) is the first in more than a decade to feature the shimmering synthesizer lines for which the endlessly malleable indiepop icons first became known. As I learned when writing this week's Voice profile of Magnetic Fields songwriter Stephin Merritt, he loves talking about the gear that helps him command those sounds—he gets downright giddy, which is both unexpected (given his cantankerous reputation) and endearing.

Below is a gear-centric excerpt from our conversation, which took place at an old-timey Greenwich Village restaurant that uses real anchovies in its Caesar salad, and where the waitress brought him his pasta before he even cracked open a menu.

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Lou Reed And The Velvet Underground (3) Match Wits With The Magnetic Fields (14) In SOTC's March Madness

VU fields.jpg
​The Round of 64 for Sound of the City's own version of March Madness—in which you, the Sound of the City voting public, help determine the quintessential New York musician—is a little jam-packed today. (The schedule and results so far are here; the full, updated bracket is here.) Here, we return Downtown for a battle of the frontmen, as Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground match up against Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields. Check out the arguments in favor of each below, and vote at Facebook for your favorite.

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Let Us Be the Indie-Curmudgeon Tiger Beat: A Collection of Stephin Merritt Photos from Monday Night's OBIES Awards

photo by Cary Conover
Stephin Merritt with David Greenspan during the cocktail hour

On Monday night, the SOTC triumverate had the unique pleasure of eating hor d'oeuvres and standing awkwardly beside sardonic anti-hero songwriter Stephin Merritt during the cocktail hour of our paper's 55th Annual Off-Broadway Awards. Later that night, Stephin Merritt took the Webster Hall stage to accept an OBIE for his musical contributions to the David Greenspan project Coraline. "I guess I'm going to go home and put this on my mantel," Merritt said when accepting his Obie. "Do people here have mantels?"

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Q&A: Director Kerthy Fix Talks Strange Powers, Her New Documentary About Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields

"That I can go to Google and the third thing that comes up "Is Stephin Merritt a racist because he doesn't like hip-hop?" It was so wrong and immoral, and it had never fully been cleared up."

A generation of terrified journalists and collaborators will tell you that Stephin Merritt is a fundamentally unknowable guy--prickly, dismissive, and exact in his tastes, which are manifest in the charming, sardonic twenty year output of the Magnetic Fields, Merritt's main songwriting and performing outlet. But notoriously glum Merritt is also beloved for these qualities, as is his band, and though he might seem at first glance to be an unlikely subject for a documentary, it makes a certain amount of sense. He's a singular artist, and a vivid personality, and in Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, a new film from directors Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara, his charm shows.

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Here Is the Trailer for the Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields Documentary

Seems that the long awaited and slaved over Stephin Merritt documentary now has both a name and a trailer. Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields is set to debut at the San Francisco Film Society, February 28th, and will hopefully then eventually make its way to New York, where some of the footage was clearly shot. Why they needed Peter Gabriel and Sarah Silverman in this film, who knows, but the part where Merritt has to explain to a cab driver why there are cameras following him around is pretty immortal. Official world premiere details (San Fran is supposed to be just a "preview") will be announced Thursday. We are way more excited about this than we were two weeks ago! [Strange Powers via Monitor Mix]

Stream Realism, the Newest from Magnetic Fields, or Watch the Stephin Merritt Documentary Premiering in San Francisco Next Month

It's our experience that Stephin Merritt is far more open about his life and work than people seem to give him credit for, but those who've found him impenetrable in the past will now have another way to get to know him--via documentary. The as-yet-untitled, 10-years-in-the-works film, directed by Kerthy Fix, has its unofficial premiere via the San Francisco Film Society on February 28th, where Merritt will be in the audience. After that, it's slated for a festival debut; Merritt calls New York home more often than not, so odds are good the doc will make its way here before the year is out as well. Those impatient for their Magnetic Fields fix need not worry--Realism, the lower-key Distortion follow-up due out next Tuesday, is currently streaming in its entirety at MySpace (through Saturday). Not sure what to make of it yet, besides that "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" is a gem. The rest, unclear. [h/t Pitchfork]

Live: Yo La Tengo (With Stephin Merritt, Britt Daniels, and Ira's Mom) at Maxwell's

photos by Liz Clayton, via the Yo La Tengo diary

Yo La Tengo
December 21 and 22

"Don't be scared!" some dude catcalled at Georgia Hubley during one of the quiet parts of the first night of Yo La Tengo's annual Hanukkah spectacular at Maxwell's. "Oh, I'm not scared," she shot back. This isn't your 40-something record dork's dimunitive Yo La Tengo, anyway. (Maybe your 30something's.) After all, their next album is called Fuckbook. Playing side-by-side all night with Quasi/Jicks drummer Janet Weiss, Hubley and company settled into the nook-like stage they've been playing since before there was grunge.

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Interview: Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt

"I want my shoes. Destroy the world. Goodbye."

Photo by Chris Buck

Stephin Merritt, the musician behind ventures as diverse as the Magnetic Fields and the Lemony Snicket audiobooks, is having a good year. The Magnetic Fields' eighth studio album, Distortion, a twisted, feedback drenched homage to the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy, came out in January. More recently, Merritt's been immersed in writing the music and lyrics for a theatrical adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, timed for release at the same time as the film version, directed and animated in 3D by Nightmare Before Christmas creator Henry Selick.

We spoke on the verge of the Magnetic Fields' first full US tour for Distortion, which kicks off October 10 and lands in Jersey City, at the Loews Jersey Theatre, on October 23. In between rehearsals for Coraline and recording new Magnetic Fields material, Merritt still found the time to converse about New York's financial collapse (which his mother may or may not have predicted), the fundamental untrustworthiness of the French (and of Europeans in general), and about how everyone in Merritt's new hometown is shockingly shallow.

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Rock Star Fashion Watch: The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, 'French Tourist in Soho' Edition


Lost in the hullabaloo over the French fashion label Bluedy's premiere of a Stephin Merritt-inspired line of footwear—"Stephin: The shoe drawn in homage to Stephin Merritt"—is the escalation of a long-simmering war between Merritt and the French.

Back in February, Merritt was caught up in New York's Spring Fashion sting, forced to confess his propensity to wear one color and one color alone: brown. "I have brown hair and eyes," Merritt said at the time, "and I believe in matching." What followed was this exchange:

So why didn’t you start wearing black?

Unfortunately, black at this point tends to make you look like a French tourist in Soho. It also makes me look ill. I look ill enough; I really don’t need to call attention to that.

Magnetic Fields fans will also recall Merritt's "The Death of Ferdinand De Saussure," in which Merritt was similarly blunt: "You don't know anything," he admonished the famous French-speaking, Paris-dwelling linguist. "You are nothing." Now, not only are French people producing pointy, occasionally black footwear named for the reclusive pop star—they're outfitting French tourists to look just like Merritt, too. Soon, tuxedos will be all this haunted man has left...