I've never quite connected with Stephin Merritt. I'm not quite sure why‚ but I think it's simply that he wears his "Yes‚ I'm a dour ironist who knows more about songwriting than 98% of the human population" on his sleeve too much for me.
But I think I may have woken up to a new morning with Merritt. I saw this trailer for a new documentary about his band‚ The Magnetic Fields‚ on Pitchfork the other day. The doc is called Strange Powers‚ and I was drawn in immediately.
The opening scene‚ where a cabbie asks why someone is making a documentary about Merritt‚ is a beautifully dry and funny take on the age old theme of "Have I heard of you?" Then the director gives us a little contrast by having Peter Gabriel, Sarah Silverman, Daniel Handler and Neil Gaiman praise different aspects of Merritt's work. Surely the cabbie has heard of at least Gabriel and Silverman. And there's a quote from his manager about how label people told her that obviously Merritt is not going to be huge‚ so what is she planning to do with him. Classic.
So I think it's time for me to dust off my copy of 69 Love Songs. Seeing Merritt on video wakes me up to how brilliantly funny he is, whether he's making a deadpan observation about Olivia Newton-John or telling his band, "Ignore the audience and it will go away."
Check it out.