Charlton Heston + Echo + Andy Zax
|Sasha Frere-Jones||Mar 27, 2020|
A sign on the FDR was blinking this sequence today:
#FLATTEN THE CURVE
It was Variable Message Sign 6 on the FDR at Jackson Street. (If you want to know more about VMS 6 and its cousins, click here.) I figured out what that kind of sign is called by calling my friend, John, who works for the Department of Transportation.
John and his family are bunkered in Connecticut. In 2004, I filled up a 60 GB iPod for him. (Do you have one in the original packaging? Get rich now.) The physical controls on John’s iPod don’t function, so all he can do is turn it on and let it shuffle. He’s never heard the same song twice and, right now, that works.
Because I first saw The Omega Man when I was six or seven, I got it confused with Westworld and thought Yul Brynner was walking around New York all by himself. It was Charlton Heston, who seems as out of place in Los Angeles as Will Smith does in New York. The Los Angeles of The Omega Man didn’t mean anything to a kid whose entire life happened in Brooklyn, aside from occasional trips to the city.
There’s an audio motif you know from apocalypse-adjacent TV shows and movies. An official announcement rings through the streets, and we slowly realize that the person who recorded it is dead and the old world is gone. The sound you need to make this moment work is echo, the signature of emptiness, the ping of unoccupied space.
I’d never been in a New York empty enough to allow for echo in the streets. Today, by Cooper Union, an MTA bus was parked and idling between shifts. A pre-recorded message of a female voice, saying god knows what, streamed out of the bus and bounced off the buildings.
The lie of official language, the lie of American speech delivered by authorities and utilities and politicians, is that it is true and that it is addressed to you. If the subject is your death, it is only present as subtext. “In the event of a loss of cabin pressure.” “Watch the closing doors.” “Today, we Americans face a new enemy.” And you? Nobody knows who you are. When you hear that voice echo, you’re even more alone than you were every other time you heard it. You can park anywhere, though.
This video of someone trying to recount the plot of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope is like me trying to tell you who was in The Omega Man, but funnier. And animated.
We close with a mix from Andy Zax. He writes:
Like a dead songwriting hero of mine once wrote: I recall a bigger, brighter world. Some of it still existed as recently as a month ago, before everything contracted into a smaller, dimmer world of me, my wife, some nitrile gloves and a lot of dry soup mix. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself mourning things that are gone and people who are about to be, distances that are no longer traversable, expectations I no longer expect, assumptions I can't assume, friends and relatives I may never see again. One wants to express something about what it feels like to be in the world at this moment. All I have is three terabytes of music and the truth, and that’s where Then Songs For Now Times comes from. The songs are the ones that flit around in my skull while I’m washing my hands or lying awake in bed at 4AM. The first installment is long on baroque mopery, failed escapes, separations, leave-takings, deathbed confessions and assorted melodrama. The second volume is likely to be angrier.