An open letter to LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, from one critic to another

An open letter to LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, from one critic to another

Hey James,

I know you’re probably being pulled in a million different directions right now, so I’ll be brief. After all, it’s not like I’m the first person who was moved to write nice things about your band as it plays its final shows this week. In case you’re wondering—I know you’re not, but humor me here—I won’t be attending the big three-hour LCD Soundsystem send-off concert Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty that I didn’t get in; unlike seemingly every other one of your fans, I didn’t even try to get tickets. Nothing is fucked here, James. I’m fine missing it. It’s not like you’re dying or something; I know you’ll still be around, making records, maybe even under the LCD Soundsystem name.  I’m not attaching any greater meaning to this show than you seem to be. 

It’s like the song goes: “I was there.” That’s what this final concert is about. In addition to bragging about playing Daft Punk for the rock kids or (this might be my favorite line of yours) telling Captain Beefheart, “Don’t do it that way, you’ll never make a dime,” people will now talk in hushed tones about how seeing LCD at MSG was another “you shoulda been there!” moment. You’ve come full-circle back to “Losing My Edge,” only now you’ve gone from listing the signifiers of musical coolness to being one of those signifiers. Not a bad way to spend eight years of your life. 

For what it’s worth, I said my “goodbye” to LCD Soundsystem when you played my town, Milwaukee, back in October. I remember you walking out, looking like you just woke up from a long nap, to the sluggish syncopations of “Dance Yrself Clean.” Minutes later, the song erupted into that mammoth, chest-slapping beat, hitting the audience with an explosive roundhouse blow that simultaneously lifted thousands of people several inches off the ground. By then you had morphed into your onstage, arena-rock persona, expertly manipulating the highs and lows of the LCD live experience like a DJ with one of the world’s best bands at his fingertips. And yet you still looked, well, schlubby, just like me. Actually, I think my clothes might’ve been slightly less wrinkled than yours. It was inspiring.

Maybe that’s why I’m bothering with this cheesy open letter. Like a lot of music critics, I feel a special kinship with you, because we are you. Or, rather, you are a better, smarter version of us. The relationship music critics have with you is similar to what film critics have with Quentin Tarantino, who, like you, started out as a know-it-all fan who, unlike most critics, took all the trivial, microscopic specificities he absorbed from every corner of his fan experience and found a way to create something new with it. But even if you guys are big-shot artists now, you’re also still critics at heart; you did it like Godard, critiquing art by making better art. Any time you’d take pains to find just the right detail to make a track really snap—a crisp snare, a squiggly synth, a warmly bouncing bassline—you were both nodding to the records you felt did it correctly, while also making an argument against the relatively chilly, slapdash way music is made in the point-and-click ProTools era. They say writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but your records actually were architecture, built from the spare parts of closely observed sounds you deconstructed and recontextualized from countless songs in your impeccably curated collection. 

Like Tarantino, you make us critics feel insecure, because when you’re around, we’re no longer the smartest people in the room. So we sometimes make a point of playing “Spot The Influence” with your work. No matter that you were more than happy to point out the signposts yourself. We couldn’t just let you make a reference to Bowie’s Berlin period or some Yaz deep cut without pointing out that, yes, we totally know what you’re ripping off because we know just as much about music as you do. If we didn’t do that, you might’ve—God forbid—made music critics seem irrelevant. 

But c’mon, you know we always loved LCD Soundsystem. You gave us no other choice but to love LCD, because you constructed the band in such a way as to make it impervious to criticism. You were like Samuel L. Jackson in The Negotiator: You knew all of our tricks and pet peeves, and made sure that LCD Soundsystem would pass every persnickety snob test with flying colors. (Did you catch my 30 Rock reference there? Or did I slip one past you? God, I’m needy.) First, you made terrific singles that went on forever but never got boring, that were danceable but also muscular, and somehow managed to be snarky and wise. (How many of the people who cover you professionally still confuse the former for the latter?) Then you made classic albums; a lot of people seem to think Sound Of Silver was your first masterpiece, but I loved the self-titled debut from 2005, too. Adoration is the only proper reaction to a record that includes “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” “Tribulations,” and the sad and funny “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up,” the best Beatles parody The Rutles never wrote. 

Finally, you made LCD Soundsystem one of the best live bands on the planet. If anything makes me sad about this stage of your career (apparently) drawing to a close, it’s that I only got to see you perform “All My Friends” live once. It’s an emotional powerhouse on record, but live, you played it like Bono and The Edge moving entire nations with “Where The Streets Have No Name.” Just thinking about it makes me want to raise my hands in the air and dance around the room.

Before I do that, I’ll say this:  James, you’re on the precipice of perhaps LCD Soundsystem’s biggest triumph yet, and it’s going to be the last. Once again, you’ve made yourself invincible; there won’t be any “LCD Soundsystem is past its prime” headlines in your future. I can’t think of a more fitting ending to a perfectly executed lifespan for a band. Actually, I can: How about a rooftop concert at the Apple building, surrounded by police officers?  It’s not original and it’s a totally obvious reference, but you could really make it sing. Let’s save that one for the next project.