Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter M

1. Magic Pie — Oasis
Don’t you hate on Be Here Now. Not even you, Noel Gallagher. I won’t hear of it. I don’t care if you were coked out of your mind and wrote most of it on the beach with Johnny Depp. I don’t care if you wanted to toss Liam down a set of stairs rather than record a second with him, and I don’t care if you were distracted by a new marriage that wasn’t a good idea in the first place. Nope, I love Be Here Now, even “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt” because I still think it’s a sweet song, despite the woman behind the subject matter. And no, I don’t care that “Magic Pie” has a silly name — I love it anyway, even if it is seven minutes and nineteen seconds long. (Well, why not — I might joke — try to fill up all 75-80 minutes on a disc, now that it’s raining production money? Why the hell not? Don’t answer that.)

Loving Be Here Now means recognizing its flaws, but not ignoring the gems. It’s not Oasis’ strongest album, sure, but it’s not their worst either. In fact, if Don’t Believe the Truth hadn’t been so fantastic, Be Here Now would still be in my top three, trading spots for #2 with (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? depending on my mood (It’s that feckin’ “Swamp Song” that keeps me from putting on Morning Glory sometimes). The strongest songwriting from this era came more from the b-sides, but “Magic Pie” offers up a little introspection in a time that it did not seem a priority.

In “Magic Pie,” Noel seems a little fascinated with other people put in a similar position of huge success and how everything that comes with it does not appear to wear on them.

He might live the long goodbye
But that is not for me to say
I dig his friends, I dig his shoes
He is just a child with nothing to lose
But his mind


He flips the thought later, asking “D’you dig my friends? D’you dig my shoes?” almost as though he’s wondering if it looks like he’s got it all together — part ego, part doubt. Either as metaphor or a straightforward question, I like that question: D’you dig my shoes? Look at how far I’ve come, look at what I can do, what I can have. What do you have to say about that?

Who can argue with the inner pep-talk of “I’ll have my way, in my own time. I’ll have my say. My star will shine” ?

Be Here Now may be the album Oasis doesn’t remember making, but if we were to argue against musicians using drugs, a lot of classic albums would not have been the same. Now, this may not be a classic in the traditional sense, but it is the album that tested the limits of the band. In some cases, pushing music and life right up to the point of breaking provides the best way of seeing where the priorities lie. They lost three band members after Be Here Now, but the additions of Andy Bell and Gem (who have now been around just as long as Bonehead and Guigsy were) seem like such a natural fit, I have to believe it was the only way to go. I’m glad they’ve ditched the drugs — hardly anyone can sustain that sort of life — but without them, much of the music would not have been the same.

2. Make Yourself — Incubus
“If I hadn’t made me, I would’ve been made somehow.” If there were ever a surefire way to guarantee unhappiness, it would be by trying to live according to everyone else standards — and even worse, mistaking those standards as your own without question. Here, my favorite Incubus song rails against that line of non-thinking and rocks out in the process. “You should really make amends with you. If only for better health.”

Brandon Boyd’s voice alternates between low purr, soaring call and cathartic scream, making it very satisfying to sing along. “Make Yourself” reminds me that no matter how nuts people might find a well thought out decision I’ve made — say, getting married at five days short of my 19th birthday — that I just have to ride out the doubt and trust that people will come around. If I started basing life-altering decisions on anything other than what feels right in my heart, “powers that be would have swallowed me up, and that’s more than I can allow.” And yes, most everyone has come to recognize my marriage as a good decision, though I’ll venture that not until children showed up did some people tip in favor.

Singing along to “Make Yourself” is also a satisfying way to vent frustration with the people who make everyone’s life unnecessarily complicated because they don’t have their own shit figured out:

If you let them make you, they’ll make you papier-mache.
At a distance, you’re strong, until the wind comes
then you crumble and blow away


When this album of the same name came out during high school, I didn’t really pay much attention. I’d heard of Incubus, but never really investigated. “Drive” was on the radio and MTV plenty, and that was a fine enough song, but the first time they registered was when my boyfriend at the time had me download an acoustic version of “Pardon Me.” That song was far more interesting, so I borrowed the album for a day or two, but never had the chance to get into it until he got all twitchy and needed it back. Wasn’t so clear at the time, but I needed the upgrade to someone who had no proprietary issues with his music collection. Now I’m glad to have Incubus tied to my husband and not have them be just a band we all listened to in high school. Besides, Old Boyfriend and I wouldn’t have ever discussed how Brandon Boyd has no need to wear a shirt. Ever.

One other amusing thing (perhaps only to us) about Incubus — They are the exception to the “The Dreads Hold the Power” rule. Think about it. Lenny Kravitz cut off his dreads and went soft. Black Eyed Peas cut them, and even though Will.i.am has since regrown, they lost their minds enough to hire Fergie. Incubus? They cut off their dreads and their sound moved through the “produced on shrooms” haze. They were probably still high, but they moved from a decent album (S.C.I.E.N.C.E) to the near perfect Make Yourself. There’s always an exception to the rule, but be forewarned when your favorite dreadlocked musician gets a haircut.

3. Miss Murder — AFI
I loved AFI’s Sing the Sorrow so much that the wait for their follow-up album, decemberunderground, seemed to take decades. Then one day in April 2006, the first single, “Miss Murder,” made me “EEEE!” with delight. Since we’ve owned our house, we’ve done without cable channels to save money, and the unfortunate part of living out of town (besides no pizza delivery) is that dial-up has been about our only option. But in my music channel devoid world, I waited out the 2+ hour download to see the video. It would tide me over until the June 6th release date.

Despite the fact that I love, love, love AFI, I fall somewhere in the midrange of fan for this band. They have an enthusiastic following that is almost embarrassing in their devotion. I think much of it comes from the feeling of being an outsider, latching onto a MAC cosmetics-wearing, vegan, straight edge, sexually ambiguous frontman venting his frustrations in well-composed punk-adjacent rock. I may have listened to the five albums I have forty bajillion times, but I don’t necessarily identify with some of the brooding undercurrent (I can be far too arrogant for that). However, in a time where the radio is flush with watered-down “let’s pretend we’re so punk rawk,” I find everything else out there pales in comparison to AFI’s style of music. “Miss Murder” gets so much right that it almost seems pointless for cheap knock-offs to try.

The funny result of downloading that video is that two year old Grace latched on to singer Davey Havock to the point where she’d run around the house yelling “I wanna watch Davey!” and imitating the hand motions in the video. She wasn’t even out of her crib yet, and we’d hear her singing over the baby monitor, “Hey murr murr can I, hey murr murr can I... take my eye-ff, WOAH-OH-OH!” Yes, I know — Conservative mothers across America are tut-tutting in horror that I would let my sweet toddler sing a song called “Miss Murder,” but not only does she not really know what she’s singing, what she sings has more to do with loss and disillusion than anything “improper.” Just like “Ring Around the Rosies” is about the plague, I have no problem with my kid happily singing and dancing to a song she doesn’t understand yet. And when she is old enough to understand, I trust that I will have raised her to be a critical and creative thinker when it comes to art, who knows that sometimes less understanding people have a tendency to get hung up on the irrelevant details.

The album decemberunderground provided a musical backdrop for my own grief in the year after my dad died. I needed some wallowing and my usual cautious optimism was put on hold. The songs provided just the right amount of uplift to keep me above water and just enough opportunity to sort through how I felt, even though the lyrics did not always 100% apply. “The stars that mystified, he left them all behind and how his children cried,” stands out in this song.

Grief aside, “Miss Murder” really is a catchy song, and has the least to do with any feelings I worked through that year compared to other songs. (Particularly striking, “The Missing Frame” — “One at a time, I watched them all forget. One at a time, I’m lost in little deaths.”) The song opens with a great bass line before fully exploding. One of the things I like best about AFI is that it is not just a vehicle for Davey Havock, as attractive and talented as he may be. Every member of the band gets equal footing — there’s no searching for the bass line, there’s no overabundance of indulgent guitar riffs. Even their videos give almost equal time to everyone, and in that equal time, the musicianship stands out. No one serves as filler. The years between albums give them a chance to get everything right, not to mention that their sound has a tendency to wander in a new direction with each release. “Miss Murder” is a bridge between their familiar punk rock and the more electronic-leaning songs on the album like “Love Like Winter,” a dance single that sound completely unlike anything else the band has done. “Miss Murder” has the shout-alongs made for the live show, a drum-along-on-the-steering-wheel beat, three and a half minutes built for being a happy surprise on rock radio. Nearly two years have passed since decemberunderground came out and I can barely wait to see where they go from here.

4. Mother — Danzig
In my early memories of discovering MTV, I can remember asking my mom why MTV wasn’t listed in the TV Guide. She said, “Well, all they play is music videos, so there’s no need to list it.” Funny how roughly twenty years later, you nearly pass out from shock if you see a full video on that channel without TRL screams and scrolling “shout-outs.”

Occasionally, I’d be left unsupervised with the TV while my mom got things done around the house, corralled my brother, etc. I’d mainly watch Nick at Nite before being shuffled off to bed myself — reruns of Mr. Ed, Donna Reed, Patty Duke and whatnot — but sometimes I would switch it over to MTV. Somehow, an approximately kindergarten-aged me developed a crush on Danzig. Yes, that’s right. Glen Danzig.

To be honest, I can’t remember what video I saw. I can’t even remember what happened in it, other than I think it may have been a performance video, and I don’t even remember what Danzig looks/looked like. All I remember is seeing the video and thinking, “Oh! I have to see the end of this video so it will tell me who he is!” I would have been so disappointed, I think, if I’d just been given a vague band name. Naming your band after yourself may seem silly to some, but at the time, it was extremely helpful. I told no one what I’d seen because although there hadn’t been an official conversation about it, I still wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be watching MTV. And like any kid’s logic goes, if there hasn’t been any official conversation condoning or banning an activity, then it’s best not to bring it up, just in case. You’re not breaking any rules if those rules have not yet been established. Plus, I didn’t want to be teased about thinking some dude on TV was cute, of course. An inordinate amount of time in my childhood was spent considering how to experience the least amount of hassle when it came to just about anything.

I don’t know if “Mother” was the song I heard, and I don’t remember if I ever saw the video again, but every time I hear this song on the radio, I think, “God, I love this song...” and I wonder if that’s where my preoccupation with wearing lots of black began. It’s a good thing I was a bright and happy kid, or I think more parents and teachers might have voiced more concern. The seeds of appearance and musical preference start early, and without Glen Danzig, my much-loved AFI might not be here today.

5. Monkey — Bush
To borrow a phrase from a recent discussion among interwub friends at The Bunker (more about them in the letter P), a portion of the song “Monkey” gives me a case of musical tourettes:

You take these pretty photos,
when will you be worthy of your good side?
Where will you be when the clouds break
and it all takes
just a little more than you have?


No matter what I may be doing, conversation or otherwise, I will burst, or at least murmur, into song when that section of the song rolls by, and I have since I bought Sixteen Stone. “Monkey” has a very satisfying crunchy guitar line, Gavin’s voice set to “extra-gravel.” It’s full of all sorts of manly energy, each line delivered with articulated urgency, not to mention, I get the added giggle of the song being titled with a word I find very funny.

The self-destruction angle of the song, I admit, did not quite sink into my thirteen year old brain when I bought the album. Really, it was a lot more fun to get caught up in the vague metaphors appearing as nonsense that pepper Gavin Rossdale’s songwriting:“I am lion face/ No Sancho Panza.” My friend Kristen (with me during those earlier years of Bush appreciation) and I have a tendency to find certain words funny, and Sancho Panza mixed with the word monkey was endlessly amusing. We still point out the funny parts in songs, even if we’re old enough now to know what’s behind them.

Aside from those lines I am compelled to sing each time, I’ve lived just enough life now where I am gripped by the thought, “I’m riddled by you/ I could have been better.” When it comes down to it, that theme is at the heart of everything I write.

Honorable Mentions:
Magic Man — Heart

I wish I had the set of lungs required for this song. Heart’s sort of a guilty pleasure (especially the 80s stuff), and I am filled with excitement and apprehension when someone tries ones of their songs on American Idol (also a guilty pleasure). Singing along is best attempted while alone in the car. The guitar on “Magic Man,” among others, is great too.

Married with Children — Oasis
For those unfamiliar, Oasis’ “Married with Children” is not related to the TV show or Frank Sinatra. Liam sings at his most clear and well-behaved, and though that’s not what he prefers, I find it nice to hear every once in awhile. Oh, I still want the swagger in most everything else he sings, but it’s worth recording Liam so young and with a few less cigarettes through his lungs. “Married with Children” was also my first introduction to the word ‘shite.’ How very educational.

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