The Wedding Present

Learning to love like Yo La Tengo

Two of my dearest friends decided to move in together after sharing the feedback ambiance of Yo La Tengo at First Avenue in 1997. It's not their fault. Unless they had ice shards in their capillaries, no dreamy-eyed connubialists could have resisted the pull to cohabitation exerted by Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley. Touring behind their accomplished domestication of guitar noise I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, the long-time marital dyad had become postpunk's unrivaled answer to...to...

Hmm...to whom? John and Yoko? John and Exene? The Captain and Tennille? Rock 'n' roll hardly boasts a long list of happy collaborative marriages. The closest analogue is probably YLT contemporaries Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, who also suggest that heterosexed contentment and hyperliberated bohemia aren't necessarily incompatible. Ira and Georgia's case is more convincing, because it's made less flashily, less sexily, and less prominently. The Gordon-Moores promise that commitment is cool. The Hubley-Kaplans promise that it's warm.

Whole lotta love: Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNair
Whole lotta love: Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNair

At first And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador) begins ruminatively, if not uncertainly. The guitar roil of old--typically wailing above James McNair's sturdy bass--has apparently been replaced with...well, with nothing. Turned inside out, natch, har har. Lots of wonderful nothing. Echoes of silence adorned with drum stutters and cello bits. Meanwhile Kaplan explores the sensual range of the deadpan, his lyrics whittled to their laconic essence. "The song said 'Let's be happy,'" he recalls with the murmur of a man who leaves his house only for new guitar strings. "I was happy." Similarly, on "The Crying of Lot G" he airs his fears without sounding paranoid, obsessive, or high-strung, with a simple "The way that I feel/When you cry/Is so bad."

Which suggests that sometimes even happy, loving couples can feel like bad company. My friends' indie-rock-induced pairing went through three breakups, each increasingly permanent and decreasingly amicable. Yet I remained envious of their emotional proximity to I Can Feel the Heart. Like moving to San Francisco (and being sure to wear flowers in your hair) because of Scott McKenzie's invitation, or safety-pinning your shirt à la John the Antichrist, this was the sort of rash, pop decision that comes along just once in your life. Because we're talking indie rock here, it's a more modest, more quickly scuttled decision.

Or maybe it's like watching the Superfriends, then jumping off a freeway overpass to try to fly. In their way, Kaplan and Hubley make as bad role models as Snoop Dogg. Plato was right. Art lies, and it does little good for the republic, distracting earnest young people from contemplation of the real. The Gang of Four were right. Romantic love lies, and it does little good for the revolution, distracting earnest young people from commitment to the struggle. Harumph.

As always, Yo La Tengo don't directly address such concerns themselves; they speak instead through their record collection. Here they employ a quotation from the worldly philosopher Henry Wayne Casey, better known as K.C. (of the Sunshine Band). Yo La Tengo rework Casey's "You Can Have It All" into a dreamy shuffle that retains the limitless promise of the original, without suggesting that you need even cross your doorstep to find such pleasure.

The original, incidentally, was recorded by George McCrae--best known for his lively 1974 No. 1 "Rock Your Baby." His wife Gwen followed him into the Top 10 a year later with the equally fine "Rocking Chair," featuring hubby's backup vocal. Another couple whose music never changed the world. Another couple who suggested that the meaning of love was two people adjusting to one another's rhythms. Yo La Tengo's truest ancestors?

 
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