Neil Sedaka said it best in 1962 when he sang the simple phrase, “breaking up is hard to do.” No one likes it when their favorite musician or group calls it quits. Sure, we’ll always be able to go back and listen through their past catalogue, reminisce about the stupid shit we did at their concerts, and certainly feel an almost tangible emotional connection to our favorite songs. But sometimes that’s just not enough.
When James Murphy announced that LCD Soundsystem would be dissolving after a final show at New York’s Madison Square Garden in April of 2011, the collective reaction across the music community was one mixed with confusion and disappointment. After three critically acclaimed LP’s, Murphy chose to pull the plug on a “just for shits” type project that organically birthed a fresh New York punk/dance movement in the mid 2000’s. It could be argued that This Is Happening was the group’s best work to date, and that his decision to abruptly end things was a choice to walk away while still at the top of his game.
Although technically a band when recording and performing live, LCD Soundsystem has always boiled down to one man: James Murphy. It’s easy to forget that fact because it’s hard to comprehend how a single man can create such complex layered pieces of music on his own. With that in mind, James Murphy the man, and LCD Soundsystem the project, can rightfully be discussed interchangeably.
After laying dormant for the better part of this past year, LCD Soundsystem has managed to find its way back into popular conversation again thanks to a recent showing of the documentary, Shut Up And Play The Hits, a candid and comical interview on late night television with Jimmy Fallon, and rumors that Murphy may be pulling the pieces of his project back together for the purposes of creating some new music. That possibility got us excited and prompted a need to refresh ourselves on some of the quirky little details that have helped mold such an entertaining musical force.
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James Murphy Passed On A Chance To Write For Seinfeld.
While in his early twenties, a college friend introduced Murphy to a producer who was looking for a New York City-based writer to join the staff of a new sitcom that was being created. He provided some writing samples but then dismissed the opportunity shortly thereafter convinced the show would ultimately be a failure. It wasn’t until some years later that he actually realized the program he’d turned down was Seinfeld, which went on to become one of the most successful sitcoms in television history.
During a 2004 interview with The Guardian’s Paul Lester, Murphy stated that he still had a letter from that producer pinned to his office wall and referred to the Seinfeld situation as the biggest mistake of his life. “Failure is not a positive,” he continued, “and I speak as a fucking lifetime failure.”
He Also Failed At Working With Janet Jackson and Britney Spears
“She just said, ‘I want to do something that’s raw and funky like Losing My Edge, really raw and funky.’ So I said, ‘When?’ She said, ‘Well, call Dan.’ I never called Dan.”
It turns out he didn’t know who Dan was, and that’s the story of how James Murphy managed to avoid producing for Janet Jackson.
After that near miss with pop royalty, he next fielded an unexpected call from Britney Spears’ people. “I’m lying on the floor of the studio with Britney and a notebook, working on lyrics. Now, I know what kind of lyrics I write and I can’t imagine them coming out of her head. I was going, ‘Come on, you must hate the world, let’s write a song about it!'”
Britney didn’t want to write about hating the world, at least not at that time. In a separate interview Murphy later shared that after working together for hours without result Spears eventually left for dinner and never came back.
Murphy Wants To Open A Retail Store
The ground level storefront space below Murphy’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment is currently underutilized. Filled with old concert equipment and musical instruments from his now disbanded LCD Soundsystem project, he envisions the space eventually containing a new personal items market called House of Good.
Some of the inventory to be offered at the store includes cheap Chinese sneakers, whimsical socks, candy from Denmark and custom made luggage designed by James Murphy himself. No official opening date has been announced.
The Background On “Losing My Edge”
Just shy of 8 minutes in runtime, “Losing My Edge” was LCD Soundsystem’s first official single. It was originally released as a standalone record on July 8, 2002 and later appeared on the band’s self-titled debut as part of a “disc two” that also contained other one offs and remixes. The song is often looked at as James Murphy’s semi-comedic, sarcastically pseudo-cocky way of acknowledging that the younger hipster generation had began to nip at his heals.
In it he systematically rattles off all of the monumental events in music history that he was supposedly present for, insinuating to anyone who listens that he has set an unachievable benchmark of “cool” that will never be met much less penetrated. In total Murphy lists no less than 60 artists and/or music venues.
The song is also said to be structured very similarly to the unofficial single “Change” by Killing Joke, which released in March of 1980. Have a listen below, do you notice any similarities?
“Change” – Killing Joke
This Is Happening Was Recorded In Rick Rubin’s Mansion
The group’s third and thus far final studio release was 2010’s widely heralded This Is Happening. It was recorded in Rick Rubin’s legendary Laurel Canyon studio, The Mansion. Numerous albums have been conceived there including the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik, The Mars Volta’s De-Loused in the Comatorium, and Minutes to Midnight, Linkin Park’s sophomore LP.
As if it weren’t enough to record in the rumored haunted former residence of Harry Houdini (that’s who used to live on the grounds where the current Mansion stands), Murphy also required that participating members dress head-to-toe in all white. The dress code was required during recording sessions as well as after hours, including when their entire entourage would go clubbing and arrive simultaneously as a single aberration-like presence at raves.
LCD Soundsystem documented their time at The Mansion in a series of videos, the first of which can be seen below.
Murphy and His Father Were Both Club Bouncers
At the ripe (under)age of 17 James Murphy took a job bouncing at a local club. His kickboxing teacher ran the establishment and set him up with the position. Given his personalty and demeanor, it’s somewhat comical to picture him as a tough doorman responsible for maintaing order at a bar. He was required to exercise force on one patron, describing the confrontation in a past interview with The Guardian.
“He was this white supremacist punk rock guy who’d come in and headbutt people. He was way bigger than me: 6ft 6in, 250lb – a huge dude. It was the scariest thing I ever had to do in my life. My boss gave me the code, so I punched him in the sternum. He went right down.”
Overseeing the safety of nightclub goers must have been an inherent calling rooted somewhere deep in his DNA. Murphy’s father was also a bouncer saddled with keeping the peace in a likely far more relaxed place, a jazz club.
When Asked To List The 10 Songs That Saved His Life, He Named 15
Paris-based website Ten Songs That Saved Your Life got a little more than they bargained for when asking James Murphy to provide a submission. The site follows a loose operating protocol that includes updating content on a “non-regular basis” and only allows artists, musicians, writers and designers to participate on an invite only basis. Murphy must have looked at this unique opportunity as a chance to bend the rules a bit and defiantly ignore the name and purpose of the site all together by providing not 10, but 15 different songs that have saved his life, the tracklist and audio of which are shared below.
01. Jonathan Richman – “I’m Straight”
02. Suicide – “Cheree”
03. The Fall – “Paintwork”
04. The Rapture – “House of Jealous Lovers”
05. Can – “I’m So Green”
06. Leonard Cohen – “Famous Blue Raincoat”
07. David Bowie – “Fame”
08. A Flock of Seagulls – “Space Age Love Song”
09. John Cale & Lou Reed – “Work”
10. NYCC Choir – “Stand On The Word”
11. Loose Joints – “Is It All Over My Face”
12. Birthday Party – “Nick The Stripper”
13. The Beatles – “Tomorrow Never Knows” (also the first song Murphy took ecstasy to)
14. Kraftwerk – “Computer World”
15. Roberta Flack – “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”
He Wants Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” Played At His Funeral
This is such a morbid thing to think about, but as a man whose very being is centered around music, it’s no surprise that Murphy would naturally soundtrack every significant event in his life. Even its ending. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is a beautiful record, and also ironically one of the 15 songs that saved his life.
The Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch Was A Close Friend
Oscilloscope Laboratories is an independent film distribution company started by the late Adam Yauch, who was most famously known as MCA of the Beastie Boys. Oscilloscope gained the rights to distribute Shut Up And Play The Hits, the recently released documentary film that details the last 48-hours leading up to LCD Soundsystem’s sold out farewell performance at Madison Square Garden in April 2011.
During an interview earlier this month with Jimmy Fallon, Murphy discussed his relationship with Yauch referring to him as, “a dear friend and an incredible entrepreneur and an inspiring person.”
Prior to his passing Yauch said of the film:
“Perhaps having grown up in a band for most of my life – a band that formed when I was 16 years old – and having released our first record when I was still in high school, this film addresses so many questions. For instance, it can be pretty clear when a band starts, but perhaps less so when it ends, or how it should end. In that sense, it’s brilliant of James [Murphy] to end it in such a definitive way.”
The Coffee Obsession
Murphy has proven to be somewhat of a classic jack of all trades. In addition to his boutique retial shop aspirations, he has also indicated numerous times that he is a huge java fanatic and would one day like to find himself developing his own brand of espresso. In Shut Up And Play The Hits Murphy can often be seen brewing his own french press coffee and the frequency of these little episodes further proves that his affinity for a fine brew extends beyond just a casual love affair.
During an interview with Stephen Colbert (an episode which also featured the band’s final television performance) Murphy was asked what he wanted to do now that he was a retiring rockstar. He answered, “I like to make coffee.”
The Controversy With DFA Records
DFA Records is the independent label and production team of James Murphy, Tim Goldsworthy and Jonathan Galkin. In 1993 Murphy began using the handle Death From Above when Djing. It was a nickname given to the signature PA setup he used while working as a sound engineer for the Sub Pop band, Six Finger Satellite.
Established originally as Death From Above Records, the label encountered its first name related controversy following the 2001 September 11 attacks. In response the name was then shortened to the now used DFA Records. A second circumstance occurred when DFA was forced to sue the Canadian punk rock duo Death From Above for naming rights. The group eventually complied adding a “1979” to their moniker.
Notable acts associated with the DFA imprint include the very obvious LCD Soundsystem as well as Hot Chip, Hercules and Love Affair, The Juan Maclean, and Holy Ghost! among others.
Murphy Performed Black Out Drunk For Five Years
Stage fright might be the most relatable of all fears. If four out of five dentists recommended Trident, the alcoholic fifth recommends booze as the most effective way to quell flames of anxiety. Murphy has opened up numerous times in the past about having to battle with topophobia, and it was just within the last few years that he’d been able to manage it without a suppressive concoction.
During a June 2010 interview with The Quietus, Dorian Lynskey asked Murphy if he still felt awkward as a frontman. The following exchange transpired.
Murphy: It’s always going to be weird although I don’t have to drink myself into a complete blackout to do the show anymore.
Lynskey: And you used to?
Murphy: I don’t remember the first five years of touring. I would be completely blackout drunk. Alcohol doesn’t hit you when you’re filled with adrenaline so I’d just keep drinking. And then we’d get five songs in and I’d start to relax and I’d be like bssshh. That’s why I invented my drink: whisky and champagne. Champagne hits you quickly so if I got the ratio of whisky to champagne right the champagne would be a warning. If I just drank whisky I’d be like, ‘This isn’t doing anything’ and drink more and then get hit by the whisky truck after the first few songs.
LCD Soundsystem Collaborated With Nike
Running is one of those activities that people either love and become obsessed with, or hate and avoid at all costs. LCD Soundsystem tried to improve the jogging experience when they teamed up with Nike to engineer a 45 minute and 58 second track (despite it’s name of “45:33”), that would “reward and push at good intervals of a run.” In theory it was a great idea until people began to realize the track didn’t really live up to its promise and that Murphy reportedly only chose to record “45:33” so he could create an extended piece of music in the likeness of Manuel Goettsching’s 1981 record, “E2-E4.”
He came clean in a 2007 interview with The Guardian during which he said the following;
“Well I lied. I made [conceptual jogging soundtrack] 45:33 for Nike and I don’t even jog. I said I did but that was a total lie. I just wanted to make a record like E2-E4 by Manuel Göttsching. I was mourning that fact that music had changed and you could no longer make a record like that. I could have taken that into EMI but it’d be a bit pretentious. People expect songs. I wondered how I’d ever find the time and justification to do something like that, and that was perfect. But as far as running to test it, I didn’t even expect it to be for running. I wrote these liner notes which I find really funny but nobody seems to think they’re a joke. I’m not built to run. I’m built for fighting, not running away!”
The Live Performance Rules
Anything done properly follows a set of specific guidelines. Live performances for LCD Soundsystem were no different. When James Murphy and crew took the stage these were some of the restrictions they adhered to.
01. Nobody onstage can hear anything the audience doesn’t hear
02. No ‘feeling it’
03. No sunglasses
04. No rocking out
05. No improvising
06. No noodling
07. No psyching up the crowd
08. No pretending you’re cool
09. No wearing the “rock-and-roll” hat
When asked in a recent GQ Interview why this approach to interaction with the crowd was so important he explained that, “We relaxed them for a while, but people would get like James Brown ‘fined’. “You’re rocking out! Stop that!” No cool stuff. It’s a shortcut for meaning. It’s a simulacrum for meaning. I wanted to do away with that as much as humanly possible. The end doesn’t justify the means.”
Dr. Dre Is One Of His Heroes
James Murphy is not shy about incorporating his musical influences into the work that he creates. David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Daft Punk and The Velvet Underground are just a few of the numerous acts that he has listed as inspiration in the past. By listening to LCD Soundsystem records, those influencers are readily prevalent and logical, but we were surprised to learn through research that Murphy also lists Dr. Dre as a musical hero.
As a DJ himself, looking up to one of the best does make loads of sense. Does this mean we should hold our collective breath for an LCD / DRE collaboration? Detox “coming soon.”