11 July 2010
Kicking Giant’s “She’s Real” is the theme song of a New York City heat wave. I knew this in 1996, the first summer I lived in NYC, and I remembered it today. I love Alien i.D., the album it’s on. It came out in 1994 on K Records. The whole album is a crucible of croon and churn, of stinging melodies and dry-mouth beats. “She’s Real” is the last and crooniest song on the record, it’s about walking the streets of NYC, pining for an unreachable lover, on a night that’s “much too hot to sleep,” and the whole thing is simultaneously tension and release. Part of that is accomplished by the dueting of Tae Won Yu, whose always-impassioned-but-a-little-whiny vocals could fall flat on a belter like this, with guest vocalist Joanna Bronstein, whose voice is clear and cooling. Another big part of the genius of the song is Rachel’s drumming; even in the fast parts, each hit is always separate, drawing attention to itself while simultaneously propelling the song-as-a-whole forward. Those drumbeats are exactly how it feels to walk in oppressive humidity—you notice every step while you’re taking it but forget it immediately after. Did I describe the arc of the song? It’s hot, it’s hard to remember. The song starts with just Tae singing and guitar, then Joanna starts singing, then the drums come in, then the song starts moving, then we get the first breakdown, and in it there are two layered guitar lines, sharp noise and gurgling melody. Rachel’s drums come back in, and it’s a dirge, resigned. “I was sleepless, Second Avenue.” That specificity is another reason the song sticks: “Now I am walking down the river to the East River Park.” It reminds me of the way Bolaño is constantly naming streets, subtly impressing (as in “impressing upon”) you with his geography. Of course, for it to really stick, you have to want it: when I was a teenager and first heard this song, what was more romantic than the idea of walking the streets of the city, “85 at half past 2,” searching for a way out of heartbreak? The harmony on the “She’s real” refrain is pure insistence and delusion. And then the tambourine kicks in and the walking continues despite its impossibility, “Be my baby,” there’s no fucking way, this is late night delusioning, this is teenage desire, this is the heat-inspiration, because doesn’t the awesomeness of its intensity make you feel that everything is possible, only that you’ll get it to it a little later? The end is a fucking Neil Young guitar solo, like the one where he guests on Elyse’s “Houses,” the notes are few but they burn. And then what? Shaky tambourine, straying feedback. The song goes out like headlights in the distance, like lights in the windows when it’s finally cool enough to get to sleep.