Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter P

1. Perfect Opening Line — The Frames
The internet is a funny thing. I know more about people I have never met than people I spend time with in “real life.” Some of these unmet people and I have traveled through life in contact for over seven years, through children, jobs, and all manner of personal growth. We’ve shared insight and recommendations that I don’t know if I would have found on my own. Being alive in a time where I have never had a face-to-face conversation with people I would consider good friends is interesting. I remember when I graduated high school, my friend Cathy wrote in my yearbook something to the effect of “We survived life before the internet!” The internet does seem indispensable now, and without it, The Frames would not have become one of my favorite bands since I first heard them in 2001.

I don’t remember what made me stumble onto David Gray’s official website in June 2001, or what made me decide to wander into the bulletin board. Official bulletin boards have a tendency to be filled with crazy people, bizarre rules and unofficial codes of conduct, and in-fighting that never goes away. In general, it’s best to slowly back away and pretend you never looked in the first place. For whatever reason, the DGBB wasn’t like that — In fact, unless the man had a new release out, the general section of the board involved very little discussion about him. Something about the laid back attitude made me post, and for being an unmoderated board at the time, everyone got along surprisingly well. It was there I was introduced to The Frames, a strong recommendation coming primarily from (at the time, Ireland-based) Kez. Outside of Ireland, bits of the UK, Czech Republic, Australia and New York City, The Frames weren’t widely known. Now everyone knows singer Glen Hansard from the movie Once, but at the time, hearing the band felt like quite the discovery. The DGBB was also the first place I heard Damien Rice, Regina Spektor, Ray LaMontagne, among others, months or even years before they had wider attention. I was well-warned against the likes of Natasha Bedingfield before she ever started annoying me in shampoo commercials, and making fun of the singer from Simply Red really is an activity that extends past the 1980s.

The first time I had an idea of The Frames’ live energy was when my longtime never-met, good friend Niall sent me Set List. Recorded at a November 2002 gig in Dublin, it’s an album I’d recommend in tandem with Dance the Devil (the album “Perfect Opening Line” kicks off) to a person wanting to acquaint themselves with The Frames. Like Ani DiFranco, the emotion comes through all the more in the live setting.

And I’d just be curious to see now how you’ll make it by yourself
when there’s everything to lose and nothing left to win
and tomorrow as we’re looking who the history books will blame
you’ll be walking out ahead, not caring anyway

The songs have a cathartic element to them. I went through a rough patch during the Fall of 2001, and The Frames provided the appropriate musical backdrop. I found just right amount of wallowing. For that reason, some of the songs have a bittersweet quality, but they will always be one of my favorite bands.

Due to the sudden and uneven moderation of the old DGBB, those of us who have been around forever, along with those lucky enough to get there before the big change, have moved on to our “in case of emergency” bulletin board, modded by some trusted old-timers. “The Bunker.” We weren’t about to let new management spoil seven years of self-regulating conversation. We don’t really talk about David Gray anymore, but The Frames talk continues here and there. Talk about day-to-day stuff is really where the conversation lies now, and they’re all an invaluable resource when it comes to just about anything. Certain BB members aren’t the only longtime friends I’ve made online (Hi Wendy!) but they’re certainly the most far reaching. It’s fantastic that some of them are interested enough to read this page, and offer their own picks on the board. If nothing else, I get the warm and fuzzy feeling of an international fan base.

2. Part of the Queue — Oasis
Inspired by a story from my friend Niall about his friend Aoife, I think, “You there, with all the vowels!” every time I see the word ‘queue.’ Before Netflix, it’s not a word that got much play in the US. I think it’s probably one of the longest words that is pronounced only by its first letter, and that’s funny. Also funny is how Noel managed to get a great song out of grocery shopping:

“I only went out for a fucking pint of milk, all right? I got so fucking irate at the queue, that there’s like ten fucking checkouts, I think, and there’s like two little old ladies and it’s like, I don’t know if it was the rush hour for buying food... I kind of stand at the back and I think, I’m going to fucking steal this if no one takes the money off me right fucking now, you know? It’s fucking wrong cos it leads to shoplifting.”

It’s funny how when I find someone really annoying, all their little verbal ticks stand out like a foghorn. Then, take someone who has wedged a little (okay, medium) place in my heart for longer than my husband has. No, I never noticed how many times the word “like” showed up in that story until I went to write it all down. I noticed the swearing a long time ago, and though the copy editor in me wants to trim it a bit, I’m not otherwise bothered. Take any of our direct quotes, and I’m sure we all have our habits. However, I don’t usually take an everyday complaint and come out of it with a song-closer like this:

I’m having trouble just finding my soul in this town
But I’ll keep on trying, I keep on trying

A good songwriter takes the specific and rearranges it in a way that is both personally useful and creative, but remains broad enough that enough people will feel that they have been on the same ride. A good songwriter wants the listener to have that moment where they think, “I feel exactly the same way.” Noel Gallagher’s smart about the way he does it. Cursing doesn’t find its way into many of the songs because those songs don’t make it onto the radio. Even if a song isn’t considered as a single, accumulate enough of the words, and your album will be slapped with a parental guidance sticker. How laughable would that be? Lord knows the children of the world must be protected by such sentiments as “Stand Tall. Stand Proud.”

Be who you are, dammit, and don’t lie about it.

Around the age of fourteen, I had a conversation with my conservative-leaning aunt where she asked me about the people behind my favorite music. “And do they do drugs?” she asked about Oasis. Yeah, I told her with a shrug. This was 1997, mind. “And Bush? Do they too?”

I said, “Oh, I’m sure they do. They’re just not as up front about it as Oasis is.”

While she answered only with an “Oh...” I am sure that my cousins were not allowed an interest in the bands after that. It’s too bad, really, when one aspect of a person will alter someone’s perception of them. We’re all guilty of it, but come on — Expecting the music business to be drug free is like expecting me to not grind my teeth. They may both be destructive, but neither act is going to stop without effort. However, unlike the members of Oasis, I have been unable to simply decide to stop. (For those of you who know me, I’m sorry and I’m trying.)

In my entire life, I’ve never fit in a neat little box for “typical” behavior, and maybe in some ways I’ve made a point of it. I’ve complained in the same way, “It’s all they can do to be part of the queue in this town.” I’m not in the races. Wrong or right, I forge my own way.

3. Please Forgive Me — David Gray
Tyson and I had a first date that lasted twelve hours. I not so subtly lured him to a meeting over beverages, under the ruse that we were going to talk about a short story I’d written for the class we shared. He was going to ask me out anyway, and I knew that, but as if I’m the type to sit around and wait for things to get rolling. We drank our fresh squeezed orange juice, then went and played a few games of pool. Snow started to fall in big, fluffy clumps as we climbed into my car in search of tacos. When we discovered that the taco place was closed, we settled for the diner across the street. We sat in there and talked for eight hours, through the shift change to the morning wait staff. When we finally left, my car had to be under a foot of snow. High on the adrenaline of no sleep and the bursting of hearts already in love, we didn’t know what to do next. As the sun rose, we crossed the street again and went to Wal-Mart, squashing any sort of romantic imagery I might have just created. Yes, kids, marriages really are born out of first kisses in parking lots. To this day, whenever we see a chainsaw, we think about that early morning where we noticed that the Missoula store kept them in an aisle right around the corner from the toys.

Arriving back on campus with everyone else, most arriving for their finals that day, he walked me to my building. We said goodnight and good morning. He left for his room and I went to mine, where I promptly crashed until late that afternoon. Life really only became better from there.

That night at the diner, I told him, “I really am a handful. I just want you to know that.” I wanted to be clear. No longer did I have the patience to explain and excuse myself. He knew how my last relationship was more or less over, how it had come to that, and how I was ready to move on and no longer feel like a horrible person. He knew all of this, and loved me anyway.

Please forgive me if I act a little strange
for I know not what I do
feels like lightning running through my veins
every time I look at you

Help me out here, all my words are falling short
and there’s so much I want to say
I want to tell you just how good it feels
when you look at me that way

It’s cliché, but the saying “when it’s right, you know it” feels true to me. Before, a person could have any number of traits that I liked, but when it came down to it, we would never work. The fit was not quite right. With Tyson, it was as though all of those things had finally made their way into one package, and we didn’t have to force it. We just happened. From the day we were paired together in two different classes, five days a week, we were exactly ourselves around each other. We both knew “I won’t ever have to lie.” Though I’m not one of those “one true love” people, I could not ask for anything more.

4. Pulse— Ani DiFranco
If there is anything I’ve noticed about this list, it’s that whenever Ani DiFranco pops up, I find myself sifting through all sorts of muddy thoughts that I am unsure of how to articulate. If there is anyone who is the master of the atypical love song, it’s her. She sets a scene here with “that night we got kicked out of two bars and laughed our way home.” I love how she tells a story.

I found myself spellbound by the sight of you there,
beautiful and grotesque.

At over fourteen minutes long, “Pulse” is a slow jazz-adjacent song that closes the album Little Plastic Castle. I spent many evenings in my room letting my mind wander, listening in bed. One night, minutes from sleep, a section of lyrics stood out:

That night you leaned over
and threw up into your hair
I held you there thinking
I would offer you my pulse
if I thought it would be useful
I would give you my breath

I know there is love and there is great love, and hearing this song made me realize the difference. I couldn’t have been more than fifteen, which seems too young to know anything, but I know what I felt. It’s been working its way out ever since.

And I realized that night
that the hall light
which seemed so bright when you turned it on
is nothing
compared to the dawn
which is nothing
compared to the light
which seeps from me while you’re sleeping
cocooned in my room

I don’t think great love ever completely goes away. It’s unfortunate when it’s one-sided or unnoticed, but I think it can feel the same as the reciprocated kind. The tiny, floating flecks that remain carry the sting of what was never to be. Like I’ve said before, don’t mistake that for unhappiness. Search your own heart and you might find some vestige of love. Maybe I’ve felt a general type of love too easily, but I know that the all-consuming type of love comes rarely. No matter the circumstance, to ignore such a big feeling is destructive. No one ever learns anything by forgetting.

5. Perfect Day — Lou Reed
Any time I’ve seen “Perfect Day” used in a movie or a television show, it comes during a chaotic scene. The song seems written for that purpose, with low vocals and swelling strings.“Oh it’s such a perfect day/ I’m glad I spent it with you.” A montage almost writes itself.

What I love about this song is that he sings about this time with another person where on the surface, the title could be taken at face value. Everything’s going right, they spend a leisurely day together. As the song progresses, however, the idea of a “perfect day” seems either imagined or the calm before it all unravels. He aches in his delivery.

You make me forget myself
I thought I was someone else
someone good

You’re going to reap just what you sow.

He could also be withdrawing from the chaos surrounding him, taking a step back and thinking how it could be if he hadn’t been a part of this mess. Dreaming about it, even. The song is all about juxtaposition — at once quiet and inflated, both content and apprehensive. It is every moment where we try and hang on to the one good thing in life before we have nothing left.

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