It’s just a shot away

I listened to the teased-apart tracks for “Gimme Shelter” this morning, which Richard Metzger posted yesterday at Dangerous Minds to general acclaim. And all day I’ve been trying to figure out a technology angle so that I could post about it.

I started by skipping down to Keith Richard’s guitar tracks, and continued through the rest of the instrumentals. My initial reaction was, well, it’s not surprising that a pop earworm like this should turn out to be greater than the sum of its parts.

But then I listened to the vocal track. It’s a revelation. First, the lyrics: all these years, I didn’t know precisely what it was that Mick and Merry Clayton were singing. Turns out it’s “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away.” And then there’s what Clayton does with that lyric at 2:39. Which is, she breaks you down.

All that, and a tech angle; here it is: The tracks ache with the texture of twentieth century recording: the pulsing reverb, the echoing of the other tracks in the background. The grain of those voluptuous studio silences, the vapour of them technological artifacts all. We all get that, we’re all familiar with that. But then there’s this: now, they’re Youtube files.

Just like in the fifteenth century, when printers began setting medieval manuscripts in type, we’ve got a transmission of texts going on here. And as they migrate from one medium to the next, they’re opened up and estranged. Who knew that “Gimme Shelter” was a smoky palimpsest, crafted in some hedonistic scriptorium of the last millennium?

[go and visit the rest of the tracks at Dangerous Minds]

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