Glorified Love Letters to my 5 favorite songs for (almost) every letter in the alphabet, with a bonus number round.
The Number Songs
1. 1979 — Smashing Pumpkins
If my 8th grade year, 1996 through 1997, had one band that we universally declared awesome according to our newly developed teenage tastes, it was the Smashing Pumpkins. We were maybe a touch too young to fully appreciate Siamese Dream, but Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness had us all trying to scrape together the cash for the $25 double album price tag. Enough of my friends found that $25 to where I could listen to it almost any time I wanted without actually owning it, but eventually — miraculously — I snatched it up for $17.99 in Hastings’ used bin.
1979 is wonderful, floating and every sunny afternoon my 13 year old self enjoyed. The video still sticks with me — the kids running around, spinning inside the giant tire, the old getaway car — and I always find it amazing that one album can contain something as big and symphonic as “Tonight, Tonight” and as catchy and crunching as “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” and still have room for the perfect soundtrack to approaching twilight.
2. 33 Zen Lane — Bitch and Animal
When we made the decision to buy a house in a town with less than 1000 people, I had this song running through my head on a near ceaseless loop until we signed the closing papers. Talking about living with “a big backyard to run in” and “You’ll just have to come cos I won’t have a phone,” rang true to a house sitting on a quarter acre with only one working phone jack. Before our move, however, I’ve liked this song since I picked up the album, Eternally Hard, in 2001. The bouncy ukelele and easy range makes it a great song to sing along to in the car. I think if you were to ask someone for a short list of their favorite songs and then ask them how many of those songs make great “car songs,” most of their picks would fall under both labels-- bouncy and easy.
3. 9th and Pine — Less Than Jake
I love a good horn section — I love it in a symphony setting, I love it in a jazz song, and I especially love it in a great ska song. I had limited familiarity with Less Than Jake before I saw them perform during the 2001 Van’s Warped Tour. I knew who they were, I knew what sort of band they were, and other people whose musical tastes I trusted enjoyed them, so I wedged myself into the front section of the crowd well before their half-hour set. While I enjoyed every minute of it, this was the one song that really stuck out and made me resolve to buy the album. My only complaint is that at just shy of two minutes, the song doesn’t last long enough.
They threw out stickers with the band’s name and Yoo-Hoo (they must have been one of the tour sponsors) at the end of their set, and we all scooped up what we could grab. I had two. Around an hour later, we were wandering around near the merchandise booths and I almost literally ran right into the band’s bass player, Roger. I said, “Oh! It’s you!” (In case he was wondering, right?) He signed stickers and took a picture with my friend Kristen and I, and I have that photo and sticker framed and sitting above my CD collection.
What I find especially amusing about that photo is that the kid on the far left of the photo was part of the group in which Tyson stood. He and I would be married in a little over a year from that day, but at that moment, we had not even met. He says he remembers seeing two girls having their photo taken with Roger, and out of the hundreds of people at the Bozeman Fairgrounds that day, he managed to be in the background of photos that a friend of friends, a girl named Kim Jae, took and I later saw hanging on her dorm room wall the fall when I met Tyson. She went on to date the boyfriend (who was also named Tyson) that I had at the time of Warped Tour, and I always find it amazing that a state as big as Montana can have so many crossed paths. I suppose we may all be spread out, but there are less than a million of us.
4. 16 Days — Whiskeytown
Stranger’s Almanac is probably the best album my dad ever borrowed from our neighbor Steve. Both he and my dad had massive collections, though Steve’s was helped by a Hastings employee discount. Every so often, a stack of CDs that Steve thought my dad would enjoy appeared on the kitchen counter, and I would go through them and see if anything was of interest to me. I don’t know what made me pick up the Whiskeytown album — I’d never heard of them before — but some sort of hunch made me think that I would like them. We had just added a CD burner to our computer, back when CD burners were the latest and greatest novelty and blank CDs were still a dollar or so apiece.
“16 Days” is one of the songs on the album to which I would skip ahead, one in which I somehow instantly knew the words. Though I couldn’t relate personally, I felt this song on a literary level, and when I think about it now, most stories I write have to do with at the very least, a sense of loss. The story of this song has a great opener: “I’ve got 16 days/one for every time she’s gone away/one for every time I should have stayed/ She wore my wedding ring...” It wasn’t long after my discovery of Whiskeytown that Ryan Adams began his solo career, so I suppose I also gained the warm and fuzzy-smug feeling of being ahead of the curve. Who knows how ahead I really was, but I can always thank Steve for the head start.
5. 5¢ Miracle — Slackjaw
“If you don’t stick around for Slackjaw, I will slash your tires. If you don’t have a car, I will slash your sneakers,” announced Brad — Great Falls, Montana’s most reliable of the two local drummers and part of the opening band Battery Operated Boyfriend— before the second time I saw Slackjaw perform live in the spring of 2001. This may have also been the same concert that Kim Jae ran off on tour with them until they bought her a bus ticket home when they reached South Dakota. I don’t know when or how it started, but the Great Falls music scene had quite the love affair with a band that started in Spokane, WA, and ended up in Portland, OR. It may have helped that the singer, Eric Schopmeyer, was pretty and wore eyeliner (usually a bonus in my book), but the music was good enough that I’m probably not the only one who has seen them finding themselves saying about more well-known bands, “They’re a bit Slackjaw-esque, aren’t they?”
At this second concert (the first, if I am remembering correctly, was in the basement of two brothers named John and NaNu, short for Andrew), I purchased their 1997 album Buoyancy vs. Gravity, as well as a the “2001 Tour Only” CD. Inside the liner notes of B vs. G was a short story titled “5¢ Miracle,” written by Schopmeyer. As a writer who can’t quite escape putting music into fiction, I found the pairing of a story with a song fantastic. It helped that the story — about a man who travels to Atlantic City and nearly chokes to death on a cup full of nickels — was written as well as the song. While they are perfect companions to one another, the song stands well on its own in telling the story. While I don’t think it’s an experiment every band should try, the novelty of this song and story stuck with me. Slackjaw’s Curvature of the Earth may be popular and now out print, but Buoyancy vs. Gravity is usually the album I grab first, due in no small part to this song.