Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Fade-Out

"...I used to dislike any song that didn't end--you know, end with a chord, but simply faded out."

"But then you met this guy," he said.

"Exactly!" she said. "All of the songs he liked faded out, or most of them did. And so I became a connoisseur of fade-outs. I bought cassettes. I used to turn them up very loud--with headphones on--and listen very closely, trying to catch that precise moment when the person in the recording studio had begun to turn the volume dial down, or whatever he did. Sometimes I'd turn the volume dial up at just the speed I thought he--I mean the ghostly hand of the record producer--was turning it down, so that the sound stayed on an even plane. I'd get in this sort of trance, where I thought if I kept turning it up--and this is a very powerful amplifier, mind you--the song would not stop, it would just continue indefinitely. And so what I had thought of before as just a kind of artistic sloppiness, this attempt to imply that oh yeah, we're a bunch of endlessly creative folks who jam all night, and the bad old record producer finally has to turn down the volume on us just so we don't fill the whole album with one monster song, became for me instead this kind of, this kind of summation of hopefulness. I first felt it in a song called 'Ain't Nobody,' which was a song that this man I had the crush on was particularly keen on. 'Ain't nobody, loves me better.' You know that one?"

"You sing well!" he said.

"I do not. But that's the song, and as you get toward the end of it, a change takes place in the way you hear it, which is that the knowledge that the song is going to end starts to be more important than the specific ups and downs of the melody, and even though the singer is singing just as loud as ever, in fact she's really pouring it on now, she's fighting to be heard, it's as if you are hearing the inevitable waning of popularity of that hit, its slippage down the charts, and the twilight of the career of the singer, despite all of the beautiful subtle things she's able to do with a plain old dumb old bunch of notes, and even as she goes for one last high note, full of daring and hope and passionateness and everything worthwhile, she's lost, she's sinking down."

-from Vox, by Nicholson Baker

Does this passage ring any bells with anyone? I know I went through a period when I was first getting into music--this is when I was maybe 10--where I really got fascinated with the fade-outs. I remember trying to figure out what the idea behind the fade-out was. Maybe they couldn't figure out how to end the song? Maybe, like it says up there, the song ended in a long jam, and if you saw them live you'd get to here the whole thing? Or maybe it was meant to imply that the song went on forever. That especially seemed to be the case on the version of "Black Diamond" on Double Platinum (KISS's "greatest hits" collection). On the original album, "Black Diamond" has this big, protracted ending, but I guess for the single, they chopped that part off, and instead played the beginning of the song again and faded it out, which made it seem like the song was playing in an endless loop to infinity.

I also remember doing that thing she's talking about up there, of trying to turn the volume up as the song fades out. Specifically, I remember doing this on Foreigner's "Hot Blooded." As it fades out, they repeat the chorus with different words: "Hot Blooded-Every night/Hot Blooded-You're lookin' so tight/Hot Blooded-You're drivin' me wild/Hot Blooded-I'm so hot for you, child!" Then, just as it's fading out of hearing (overtaken by the white noise of the tape), they repeat the chorus again, but without the chorus singing "Hot Blooded," just the guitar going "Mahnt Mahnah." I can't remember what he says in the "Check it and see" part, but it was such a cool discovery, like I had discovered this hidden corner of the song that noone else had been in.


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