The Happy Last Chance: The Assemblers, “Media Mind” (2002)

Ending is a difficult subject to take up in the Hooks context because popular music is against the whole idea of ending.  It wants to be an inexhaustible fountain of joy.  The aesthetically lame but amazingly prevalent device of the fade-out gives the effect of music coming from a truck headed toward the next neighborhood, like the ice cream man on his rounds.  We can accept that the actual music experience ends in a few minutes but we can’t accept that the source of the experience has any limits.

This desire of ours is counter-artistic in a way.  Art is about the Idea, the Work.  In poetry and narrative art, the drive is toward the strong ending, “the world was all before them” of Paradise Lost, the “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” of Keats’ ode.  What’s like that in rock?  Well, the chord at the end of “A Day In The Life” is very summative and final—but it’s a fade-out, too.[1]

Indulge me, please, as just this once I address a major question in rock aesthetics with primary reference to a work I was directly involved in making, “Media Mind” by The Assemblers (on The Other Right Place, 2002).  My justification is that I know from assembling the track how one great ending was intended by the musicians (Bruce Golden and I) and how a different great ending (though I say so myself) was achieved in spite of the plan.

Let’s review the available strategies.  They include (a) fading out, which really denies ending; (b) a shapely cadence or coda for proper finality; (c) a shift to a new section, sort of changing the subject (as in “Hello Goodbye” and “Hey Jude”), or an outro (but then how will that end?); (d) a run-up to a big crash, which dramatizes trying to get something improbable and good to happen, and then it does; and (e) an eccentric, abrupt breaking-off (like the end of Abbey Road).

“Media Mind” goes for (c) and (d).  It shifts after its last normal verse to something new both in the notes and in the performance modality:  I start yipping “nih nih nih nih nih nih nih” at a high pitch by way of an alternate melody, and Bruce pipes up in occasional counterpoint sounding like some previously unknown cousin of Speedy Gonzalez.

“Media Mind” 1

Then we’re going to end by running up to a climactic crash.  In performances by the Assemblers this run-up was usually a comedy, as I was never very good at coordinating my strikes with Bruce’s.  We just kept trying until we luckily hit it close enough or lost patience with the process and switched to something else.  In the studio I thought we had pulled off a run-up cadence pretty well.  When it came to mixing the track, we were prepared to fade out or nip off whatever might have been recorded following our last joint hit.  But we discovered on the tape that a big succeeding hit by Bruce following my last hit (that’s right—Bruce had not stopped when he should have, or rather I stopped before I should have) sounded not like a hangnail that needing trimming off but more like a solid closing statement:  it was in time in the right way and sonically rich, well able to stand on its own.

“Media Mind” 2

By leaving in Bruce’s last hit, we created an unexpected-yet-logical ending unlike any other in the history of recorded music (unless you know of one).  Best of all for us, we proved (again!) we could come up with a great new move anytime, anywhere.  In such an ending lie a thousand further beginnings.

[1] Unfortunately the fade-out is spoiled on the 1987 CD release by studio chatter included at the end of the track.


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
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