Make Believe


Make Believe – “A Song About Camping” from Of Course (2006 Flameshovel)


Welcome, comrades, to the 20th Shuffler.

If you’ve never listened to and/or are unfamiliar with Make Believe, take a moment to scroll ahead and listen. We’ll wait.



Did you make it all the way through, or did you deem it unlistenable garbage upon the first fifteen seconds and scroll back up here to see in which way I might try to sway you to its genius?

Because you’d be forgiven either way — this is challenging music, to be sure, and I understand how elitist that sounds. But the beep bloop discordant guitars noodling around against a kick drum and, Jesus, a tambourine, can be a little much to take (tambourines being so often emblematic that hippie drugs are at play). And then one has to grapple with Tim Kinsella‘s vocals.

In 2007 Make Believe opened for Tortoise at Minneapolis’ Cedar Cultural Center. I had never heard of Make Believe, but Kinsella’s vocals were unmistakable. I came to punk music just this much too late to know about Cap’n Jazz in their heyday, but like everybody else I knew, ate up the 1998 Jade Tree release of Analphabetapolothology, the nearly (or was it complete?) retrospective on the proto-Midwest-emo-spazz/modern jazz ensemble. I never got into Joan of Arc, and mostly didn’t know about any of Kinsella’s other projects. Once I recognized his voice, I was rapt. (Tortoise went on to perform what is probably the best live show I’ve ever seen, but that’s a story for another time).

So. Make Believe. Difficult music. Listen, I can’t convince you to like this, and I understand if you don’t, but I would at least challenge you to acknowledge this much. If you listen to this song on repeat, as I’ve been doing for the past hour or so, it quickly becomes clear that it isn’t so kooky after all. It follows conventions, if loosely, like an impressionist painter. If pop song structures are water lilies, this song asks — okay, demands — that you squint to see them. And if you do, they’re right there, clear as day. In fact, the interplay of the guitars against the bass at times approaches the irreconcilable, but then, when followed closely, somehow doubles back and makes total sense.

If the art rock music is too much for you, check out the lyrics:

the tremolo of insects cuts the canyon’s furrowed brow 
cloud armada swarms in morning
through the night it kept a good eye on me 
clocks in morning cliff morning cloud

everyone i’ve ever seen naked, I remember all at once
how any woman dared how do me
strobes in naked ache and buzz

the clouds come whisper in my ear
the angels each play an angle
the angels circle back to say
“keep an eye out for the clouds today”

the clouds are only the front lines for UFO field patrol
but what I don’t let the angels know is I’m in cahoots with the UFOs 
ever since the mothership headquarter’s sun confided in me: I am one

the rivers constant exhale while cliffs cut blacker against black 
fade into flared salmon meat landscape
when the big siren in the sky arrives
and I see the river’s flow the opposite way
then I’d been hearing it all night

Here’s the deal. If you’re like me, you see a line like the tremolo of insects, and immediately wish you’d come up with it yourself. I don’t pretend to understand exactly what’s going on here in this story of angels and UFOs, but kind of wonder if it isn’t someone having a transcendent and existential experience in the great outdoors, and if that’s the case, then isn’t this a completely accessible song about the human condition?