It'll Get You There Real Quick


Today’s 9/30/13 - so we’re 3/4ths the way through 3/10ths the second decade in this 3rd CE millennium, which, aside from striking blind existential horror in any former kid now old enough to remember Y2K at all, means we should start talking about year-end best-of lists (not to mention outlining the first primitive sketches of our decade retrospectives set for release 1/1/2021)! I open here with this transparently stupid localization of time to point out ranking ten movies, songs, albums, etc. from a given year (or, hell, even ten years) doesn’t do much for any single person (or history) save stroke til climax your deepest structural and solipsistic hardons. I might insist otherwise on collective polls that are simultaneously (which is to say impossibly) democratic and highly informed, ones that erect goalpost outside a span of time greater than just a year (or ten). But this is what happens when we let people do that - which is at best worth even less than my or your own list, or - at worst - racism, sexism, and ageism published with a certain ontological hysteria by what’s supposed to be a pop stalwart of the Left.

So let’s just say this is fun. And/or, I pray, momentarily resurrective for a band described by one of its own as “…a human being … hmmm … probably laying on his back in a morgue with a tag on his toe.” It’s going to have to be one of the two, because I’m guessing you weren’t gnashing your teeth every few Decembers to exalt in list an album or song by Rilo Kiley - not in their days of committed output, and certainly not now that the only blip on their cardiograph is a B-Sides comp two years in the making.

rkives may make a handful of top ten lists I plan on reading early 2014, but surely almost no one will write about it again after that. And its second track, “It’ll Get You There,” won’t make any. I won’t be surprised, actually, if I’m the last person (the comp, now eight months old) to ever write about this song. And that’s a shame because I’ve listened to a lot of music, and at this stage in my relationship with “It’ll Get You There,” it makes my 2013 list, my 2010s list, my 2000s century list, and just about tops the all-time list, too. I’ll try to explain why - and, for your part, try to excuse me if the comparisons I make out me as a canon-humping sophomore. Jenny Lewis deserves nothing less - which, I swear, is a compliment.

The most challenging and (for that) satisfying undergrad application essay question I attempted to field came in 2007 from UChic: “Blah blah, something something, CERN is a big deal supercollider set to open underground in a year or so. It smashes tiny things together. If you could take two or more intellectual (or not) concepts, people, places, [pick a noun] and knock them into each other in a supercollider - what would the resultant particle-concept look like?” My virtuoso canon-humping response on a Thomas Pynchon-Bob Dylan-Johnny Depp Frankenstein is, looking back (shudder), probably the reason I don’t have a degree from Chicago; which, looking back again (smile), is perfectly okay with me insofar as now I don’t prefer to deprive myself of the finer things - like sex, alcohol, and, uh, fun. But if I could hangout in CERN today, I’d jump into one of those quantum-size black holes it regularly produces (with horrifying hubris, I might add) and ride the Relativity Express back to December, 2007. The first thing I’d do is show Steve Jobs an iPad and see how the fuck he responds, but the second thing I’d do is write UChic an essay on a Sonic Youth-Bob Dylan-Ernest Hemingway-Denis Johnson-Stephen Malkmus-Nirvana-Aretha Franklinstein particle-song called “It’ll Get You There.” Then hopefully lobby Jenny Lewis to send me the demo Rilo Kiley cut at some point earlier that same year so I can loose it on the world while her band is still relevant enough to get people then thinking like I do now.

To start with the Sonic Youth particle (isolated I assume from a lysergic compound), or one that I might just as readily attribute to No Age if those guys had managed to craft a song anywhere near this good, “It’ll Get You There” doesn’t begin so much as acclimatize around your ears like a nearing summer thunderstorm. Listen with your best earphones: I think that’s Jenny’s guitar rattling distant textures in your right ear as Blake Sennett overextends chords that rise and fall - first strictly to your left, but soon back and forth as well. The effect is pointedly spatial insofar as it slowly joins lead and rhythm somewhere center-right in your brain - but in the process either half will recede or balloon in accord with no logic you’re going to come up with. I hear a different song every time I put it on.

A tambourine of all things interferes at 0:39 to set a backbeat, and from here til close “It’ll Get You There” compresses the most important formal element of another favorite of mine, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” - namely the band beating the snot out of every refrain because they have no idea when the fuck the song ends. Rilo Kiley manages this energy with just three refrains (to Dylan’s five) in a few rather stunning ways, all of which point to more CERN particles.

Verses reject melody and instead withdraw backwards toward the thunderstorm intro - with a drumbeat mixed deliberately quiet the only noteworthy difference. It’s a startling contrast to refrains extended by furious Sennett riffage and overlayed with Jenny Lewis’ best Lady Soul impression. Think Nirvana’s quiet-loud-quiet-loud for the avant female.

The singing is the real trick to this. Jenny Lewis is to these ears whatever she wants to be - plaintive (“The Good That Won’t Come Out”), ironic (“Silver Lining”), beguiling (“The Moneymaker”), tragic (“More Adventurous”), pissed (“Portions for Foxes”), resigned (“Portions for Foxes”), tyrannical (“Portions for Foxes”), horny (“Portions for Foxes”), condescending (“Portions for Foxes”) - but in “It’ll Take You There” the singular adjective has to be transcendent. She lives sly inside the verse and then screams away the clouds every time she says “it’ll get you there!” I’m in grad school, so I’ll call it Derridean: she is both integrated into every atom of the song and liable to knock it aside like nothing when she damn well feels like it.

In case you weren’t ready to accept that Blake Sennett is and always was the total wuss in this arrangement - maybe this is the song that’ll change your mind. It certainly seems to have changed his. I would trade every one of his botched lead vocal attempts (crushingly, there’s at least one on each LP - which flaws them all) for ten seconds of the emotive guitar he’s playing here, the kind of vocal riffs Stephen Malkmus invented when he got tired of Spiral Stairs that led nowhere. Think of the culminating wails in “Grounded” or “Pueblo” - except here Sennett outdoes Daddy Indie Rock by ripping off like six or seven, two of which carry Jenny and crew back toward the thunderstorm. I think he had to; he sounds like he’s fighting for his life.

“It’ll Get You There” would, by this description, win my song of the year had the lyrics been written by a toddler, or even Pat Monahan. Luckily, Jenny Lewis wrote this song - and did so with a flair only she’s been able to demonstrate in pop music; what I mean is the kind of writing typified by Hemingway and Johnson, in which unrelated and frustratingly incidental nouns are arrayed together to point at some universal truth hiding outside the periphery of things. I know that’s hardly adequate. Here’s an example of what I mean from Johnson’s famous ‘Emergency,’ which I want to add comes from Jesus’ Son - a collection of short stories that dispatches drug addiction with such insight and completeness, I haven’t read anything else of the kind that even seem necessary:

Or maybe that wasn’t the time it snowed. Maybe it was the time we slept in the truck and I rolled over on the bunnies and flattened them. It doesn’t matter. What’s important for me to remember now is that earlier the next morning the snow was melted off the windshield and the daylight woke me up. A mist covered everything, and with the sunshine, was beginning to grow sharp and strange. The bunnies weren’t a problem yet, or they’d already been a problem and were already forgotten, and there was nothing on my mind. I felt the beauty of the morning. I could understand how a drowning man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched. Or how the slave might become a friend to his master. George slept with his face right on the steering wheel.

As for Hemingway, check out his obscure short story “Light of the World.” Anyway, Jenny’s now responsible for at least three songs that operate this way:

1. “It’s a Hit,” which junks George W Bush, news media, museums, the middle class, the Greek system, the Greek dramas, artistic struggle, and capitalism to assume some impossible middle position that I might call cynicism if she weren’t playing so ironic about it all; she concludes by saying “it’s a holiday for a hanging, I’m a holiday for a hangin, it’s a holiday for a hanging, yeah.” Yeah, is right. You figure it out.

2. “The Frug,” also a new one off rkives, in which Jenny coos innocent through a pop song and tells us about all the cool things she can do (like the Frug, the robocop, the Freddy, hate your girl, tell you she’s real pretty, take her clothes off, watch tv, shuffle off to Buffalo, a backbend, make some mac and cheese) and some of the things she can’t (the Smurf, fall in love, call you back, show you her eyes, fall in love, fall in love, fall in love, never fall in love). It’s the most devastating cute little thing you’ve ever heard.

And “It’ll Get You There,” in which Jenny refuses to define subject-object (or inside-outside, positive-negative, whatever):

All the trips that you take - they will you get you there.

All the little white pills you take - they will get you there.

All the compliments that you take - they will get you there.

All the hearts that you break - they will get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

All the hostages that you take - they will get you there.

All the hands that you shake - they will get you there.

All the con men that you fake - it’ll get you there.

All the hearts that you break - they will get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

I will get you there.

All the pennies you save - they will get you there.

All the hearts that you break - they will get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

It’ll get you there.

I will get you there.

She sets our expectations rigid by starting with “trips you take:” any subsequent “there” is likely a physical destination. But she fucks with us immediately by invoking substance abuse - so “there” now has to mean a state of euphoria, contentment, etc. Unless you consume “little while pills” as prescribed, in which case “there” is more closely an essential remedy (like a vacation) from a period of illness or fatigue. The “compliments that you take,” seems to reinforce either reading stemming from substance abuse or orthodox pill usage - so the interpretations remain in place. Then comes “all the hearts you break,” which also leaves either door open.

Refrain/retreat/verse: the first thing she says next is “All the hostages you take,” which undoes everything. From here, the noun/verb pairs march by as pure incidence until you catch her ending the last two refrains with “I will get you there.” This is where I started to believe “get you there” meant less “going some place physical or metaphysical” and more “Jenny Lewis, the scamp, is gonna get you feeling something somewhere in your body or your head or soul.” Maybe that’s closer to the truth, but I’m pretty sure Jenny Lewis and vacations and white pills and hostages and saved pennies and broken hearts aren’t all likely to give you the same sort of boner. If I weren’t already so pathetic a fanboy, I’d have lumped Thomas Pynchon in the CERN soup, too, because what Lewis manages here is exactly this: “The act of metaphor than was a thrust at truth and a lie, depending where you were: inside, safe or outside, lost.” No idea what she’s saying - and maybe she doesn’t either - but it’s exhilarating to listen to her say it. And probably good for you, too.