Millions Now Living Will Never Die

Band: Tortoise
Album: Millions Now Living Will Never Die
Best song: “Glass Museum” is a classic, “Djed” is a cool sound experiment and “The Taut and the Tame” is amazing. Really, no song is bad on this album.
Worst song: All great.

I have a Tony Kornheiser story — ask me about it if/when you see me in person — and it involves the advice he gives when he speaks at schools and stuff. Basically, the advice is this: Be ready to catch it if/when someone throws money off the back of a train.

It is, essentially, the best advice I’ve ever received.

A few years ago, I was on instant messenger with my best friend and we had a little thought experiment. It was the kind of thing from High Fidelity or that one episode of The American Office. It was the desert island game, essentially.

(It’s kind of a fun conversation to reread, as I put Animals on there in lieu of Dark Side of the Moon. Of course, it’s jsut a thought experiment, but I can’t really imagine living on an island with only one Floyd record and it being Animals. But, I digress.)

The hardest thing to cut down was any Tortoise record. Tortoise is, likely, my favorite band. I love every Tortoise record for different reasons. On that particular day, in that particular conversation, I thought the band’s first album was the one I’d take with me to the South Pacific or wherever said island is.

In a separate conversation with my friend, I said TNT. After Standards came out, I probably would’ve said that. The Tortoise record I’ve most listened to, according to, is most certainly It’s All Around You. And so on.

I mention my best friend not only for reasons of the anecdote, but also because his life and death pepper my worldview as much as anything in my life. I’ll not rehash the entire thing here but to say that the summer of 2008 was most certainly the point where I felt better about being an atheist, an absurdist and thisclose from being a nihilist.

Said worldview often reads like 12-step stuff; I believe the vast majority of things are not determined by our actions, but rather we have to react as best we can to the chaos. I most certainly do not believe in universal justice. Karma is not something that colors my mind. I think we have to duty to one another to be a good and decent person, but it’s not to be done in order to get something back, be it in heaven or within the context of the world.

Essentially, 85% of the world is chaos and we have a very small amount of direct control over our lives. All we can do is try and control that small part and hope for the best.

I don’t have a huge belief in the self-determination that makes American life so cutthroat. It’s colored my worldview in nearly everything since I have adopted it. I eat relatively well and I exercise, but it is very likely I will die of a heart attack. It’s not because I smoke or eat lots of read meat — I don’t do either — but it’s because my genetics are such that I have heart disease. That’s the easiest way to look at it.

And so is the world. Good people die young, terrible people live to old age.

The easiest answer to all this is that the world is a very complex place. You can prepare for every scenario and the world simply has too many moving parts for the best-laid plans to actually come to fruition. There’s a certain amount of dreaming and hope that pervades the human experience, but that hope simply masks the uncertainty that is life.

Interpersonal experiences are a great example of this. Let’s take an easy teenage movie trope: The quiet guy with a crush on a girl. The nerdy guy may change and change and start lifting weights and get a hair cut, but that girl may not like him no matter what he does. He might try to change and maybe he’ll do everything she wants him to do. He’ll do everything in his power to be the man she wants. He could be the world’s greatest boyfriend, devoted to her like nothing else. But, she may could very much not be interested.

That’s not his fault; sometimes shit happens. Maybe she doesn’t like guys under a certain height. Maybe she’s not ready for the type of relationship involved. Maybe she’s not attracted to guys with a certain voice.

Other people are an easy example of said chaos, as nothing is a simple cause and effect with other people.

My love affair with the band Tortoise has some basis in this chaos. I was born in 1981, so the Tortoise boom years — 1996-2002 or so — were perfectly lined up with my most intense musical fandom. For whatever reason, I was attracted to rhythm-heavy music and fancied myself a drummer (note: I have no skills as a drummer). It just so happened — aka “chance” — that I grew up in the Chicago area, within the radio coverage area of WNUR (Northwestern University’s radio station). It just so happened that I was friends with the brother of a guy involved in the Chicago music scene and friends with the guys in Tortoise, so my friend lent me a tape with a Tortoise song on it. It just so happened that I was listening to WNUR when a DJ called Spencer played “Gamera” and I was hooked.

Millions Now Living Will Never Die is a beautiful record and a perfect example of using dynamics to evoke emotion. Sure, “Djed” is as much experiment as it is song, but — on CD, as opposed to LP where “Djed” takes up an entire side — it falls into “Glass Museum,” a song that sounds like a melodramatic romantic movie. It’s always rising and falling, like a romance in five and a half minutes.

The album is considered a landmark in the genre of post-rock largely because “Djed” does everything but rock. It’s not a rock record without lyrics as many so-called post-rock bands (read: The Mercury Program, Pele, Mono, etc.), but rather it’s bits of sounds taken together, relying on anticipation, timing and precision. It takes as much from jazz and prog as it does from indie rock.

Which is to say that Millions is a landmark and I’m extremely lucky to have been in high school when it came out.

“Luck” is just a synonym for “chaos,” by the way.

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3 Trackbacks

  • By Funeral | Albums That I Own on August 5, 2011 at 7:54 am

    […] happen more than anything. Lots and lots of bad shit. I’ve already outlined my near-nihilism/absurdism — definitely closer to absurdism than anything else — in this space before, so I […]

  • By Hawk | Albums That I Own on September 22, 2011 at 7:46 am

    […] The world is a scary, scary place. I adore the natural world and believe in the balance of its chaos, but I don’t completely disagree with Werner Herzog’s famed theory (“I think the common denominator [of nature] is, rather, chaos, hostility and murder.”) of nature. […]

  • By Gamera | Albums That I Own on February 27, 2012 at 8:00 am

    […] its place in our lives. My music fandom and the places to which I go in said fandom, as mentioned here and here, come from a direct line to one evening and my taping songs off the local college music […]

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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