Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter R

1. Red House — Jimi Hendrix
City of Angels has a pretty fantastic soundtrack. There’s the haunting Alanis Morissette number “Uninvited,” the ubiquitous “Iris” from the Goo Goo Dolls, the beautiful “Angel” from Sarah McLachlan, and the self-explanatory “I Grieve” from Peter Gabriel. The late 90s were a good time for movie soundtracks. One of my very favorites in that collection of songs is “Red House.” My knowledge of Jimi Hendrix is passable at best — I like “Foxy Lady” and “Little Wing” like everyone else — but “Red House” feels like an underappreciated gem.

City of Angels was a movie I think my friends and I saw half a dozen times the summer it came out. It had a long run at the dollar theater, which helped. Most of us weren’t old enough for much of a job yet, so the dollar movie was the perfect form of entertainment. We’d see anything there, but we all ended up really liking City of Angels even though it left most of my friends blubbering at the end. I never cried in movie theaters until I was pregnant and made the mistake of watching Finding Nemo in public, so the blubbering ones looked at me like “Oh my god, you are so inhuman!” Hey, I’m sad! I’d say. Mostly though, I had a crush on Nicolas Cage, something I’ve since outgrown (It would help if the good movies outweighed the bad, which is no longer the case. Also, the fake hair bugs me now).

One morning that next school year, before my biology class started, my friend Shaun had his guitar out. He often did, and I wasn’t completely paying attention until I heard an acoustic attempt at the opening of the song. I spun around with that typical teenage girl gasp. “Ahhh... I love that song!” He commented that he could usually rely on me to recognize what others did not. He and I had a lot of wandering conversations pertaining to music all through high school. Old Boyfriend once got very jealous when I said that Shaun was one of my favorite people, but I wasn’t romantically interested in him. Shaun’s very focused interests just happened to overlap with my very focused interests just enough to where we indulged each other in yammering on about them at length. When I saw Shaun again last year for the first time since our first semester in Missoula, his interest was coffee. My caffeine addiction wholeheartedly supports that focus.

“Red House” is a great, bluesy number filled with the guitar-as-sex Jimi perfected. I love the closing line, “If my baby don’t love me no more/ I know her sister will.” For him, I’m sure that was no exaggeration.

2. Raspberry Swirl — Tori Amos
My friend Kristen once made a mix entitled “Pole-Dancing” that included this song. Strip clubs might drastically improve if they used music like this. Here, Tori Amos goes past hinting at sex, as she’s done in the past. Here, she flat out goes for it, complete with breathless backing vocals and piano as steady percussion. If the song is not meant for a pole dance, then it must be meant for a sweaty dance club, where I guarantee you it would provide the opportunity for some ass.

Things are getting desperate
when all the boys can’t be men
Everybody knows I’m her friend
Everybody knows I’m her man


The whole album, From the Choirgirl Hotel, took such a step left of Tori’s previous albums, but it may be one of her most straightforward. Only she could go from an album that featured a harpsichord to an album with such an electronic slant. I wonder less what she might be talking about when I listen to it, but I don’t listen to the music on an intellectual level. I react to it physically — I want to dance, sing and make out with someone all at the same time. There are plenty of heart-grabbers as well (as in the aforementioned “Jackie’s Strength,” along with “Playboy Mommy” and “Northern Lad”) but I almost get the impression that songs like “Raspberry Swirl” and “Hotel” are meant to be a welcome distraction from regular life. The music is a headlong tumble into someone new, a blow-out of an affair that may seem a little crazy from the outside but is so very necessary. “In my heart, I did no crime.”

3. Rebel, Rebel — David Bowie
You’ve got your mother in a whirl
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl
Hey babe, your hair’s all right
Hey babe, let’s stay out tonight


Somewhere along the way in high school, I became known as the girl who had a thing for cross-dressers. This may have had a little to do with my declaration during some conversation, “Hey, transvestites are people too!” (My friend, Teresa, made me a button in art class that said exactly that. Teresa was awesome.) My point was that when it is done well— say, Eddie Izzard — it can be pretty hot. Or even just a little make-up a la Johnny Depp was enough. Saying this sort of thing left me open to some good-natured ribbing, particularly when someone did it wrong (cue the bad drag queen by the pier in San Francisco: “Go get ‘em, Sara!” Uh... no). However, I’m thankful that I went to a school where I could say something like that and have the reaction be no worse than “isn’t she funny and different!”

I’m not sure there were many other yearbooks out there whose title pages featured pictures from a punk show and my friend Nathan in eyeliner and black nail polish. I’m not sure that there were many other high schools out there who had two guys win ‘Best Couple,’ as was the case my senior year. The two guys weren’t actually a couple, but they may as well have been for how inseparable they were. The fact that they, two football players, accepted the award with (albeit, embarrassed) smiles on their faces says something. Our homecoming queen was a star in the drama department, and the king didn’t even play sports. The more I talk to people who attended other schools, the more I realize how atypical my experience was. Of course we weren’t one communal group hug, but that ‘popular’ group seen in movies didn’t exist in the same way. Those preppy kids existed, but they were their own universe. Everyone else just rolled their eyes. I don’t know why this was, but somehow we were lucky.

In other ways, our school was rebellious against the stereotypes of high school. We had two proms a year and everyone could go. You could play in the marching band and not be a total outcast. Our good sports teams weren’t team sports — tennis, swimming and golf brought home the winning banners. People attended the theatre productions who weren’t parents of the kids involved. Field trips sounded fun. The government class trip to the state capitol was sort of known as “Bother Your State Representative Day.” People took advanced biology knowing they could get a trip to Yellowstone out of the deal.

On that trip to Yellowstone, we were all gathered around the parking lot to some mud pots, or something similar. In Yellowstone, you have to build the parking lots around the geology. I can’t remember what exactly we were doing — waiting for something? hearing a lesson of some sort? — but there was a fenced off square in the lot around some bubbling mud. One of the teachers said, “We’ll be rebels and just lean on this fence.” Without thinking, I started singing “Rebel, Rebel.” He laughed because he knew the song. We’d discussed music before (he gave me the Trainspotting soundtrack when he bought it and didn’t care for it). My friends were used to me randomly bursting into song, and everyone else seemed to shrug.

My point is, that I may be a little different, but I was allowed to be different without feeling like a freak show. I know that I suffered from probably an arrogant abundance of self-esteem in high school, but I really do believe that we all got a much better experience than we would have in a different environment.

As far as “Rebel, Rebel” goes, you’ve heard it before. It’s a fantastic song with sing-along quality, a great bassline and fills you with the urge to drum along the dash. “You like me and I like it all” — David Bowie’s always been a little bit different, but he’s always come out ahead. Now, we call him a legend. What could we all accomplish if we were all encouraged to be ourselves?

4. Rosie — Bye Bye Birdie Soundtrack
You can keep Cats, Phantom of the Opera and so many of those big musicals in that vein. I can’t get into those stories and the over the top posturing that comes with the music. Give me Singin’ in the Rain. Give me West Side Story. Give me Bye Bye Birdie. I want my musicals based in something that feels real, which I know sounds like a ridiculous request for a genre that requires spontaneous bursts of songs. I believe in silent movie stars struggling to adapt to sound, and I believe in the neighborhood warfare in New York City more than I can get behind a disfigured, masked guy strong-arming a woman into loving him. Bye Bye Birdie is a story about love, praise, chaos, growing up and finding your priorities.

I will admit a bias because I was once a chorus member in Bye Bye Birdie, and during the production, I fell in love. Not with my boyfriend at the time, though he was a nice enough guy, but I fell in the all-out adoration kind of love with the woman who was cast as Rosie. I was fourteen, and I hardly knew what to do with that line of thinking, male or female. However, watching her sing caused a pause in my breathing — my heart swelled and broke all at the same time. She had an ache in her voice that I miss when I listen to the original Broadway recording. Chita Rivera is wonderful, but she’s not the same.

Standing at the back of the Center Stage theater, I watched her and the man who played Albert, Rosie’s fiancee, rehearsing this song. He stared into her eyes with such genuine care and devotion that one of my friends in the cast leaned over and whispered, “They should be married in real life.” Despite the fact that he was already married and she was engaged, they ended up married a year and a half later. I found it easy to see why. She was just stunning, in a regular person sort of way. She was funny, supportive, considerate. Anyone was lucky to be near her. They matched so well together. Say what you will about how that may have affected the people around them, but when two people work, they find a way to work. I liked him because I felt like I could see what he saw.

Oh, we’ll be happy I know
Off to the preacher we’ll go
So how could we be blue?

I’m so glad you chose me
Life is one sweet, beautiful song
When love is right, then what could be wrong?
Life is one sweet, beautiful song to me.


We were in another musical together, 110 in the Shade, and I had the most fun just being around her. Along with other cast members, we would come up with ridiculous pantomimes to the lyrics of songs when we weren’t on stage. (Acting like a sheep — a ewe — for the word “you” was a particular favorite. The stage manager found us all maddening.) She said she had never laughed so much as she had during the rehearsals for that play. The community theater group did not take themselves as seriously as the high school theater department, which had mistaken itself for Broadway-level importance. I saw plenty of talent, but everyone was there for the simple joy of performing. I never had any great aspirations to have a big part. Being a part of the chorus can be a lot of fun, and where would these musicals be without their chorus? When I expressed my frustration to her about how I could barely get a second look at the school auditions, she said, “Just keep showing up. Keep showing them your face. Eventually they’ll see you have something.” My heart went aflutter, and she was right — eventually I had that chorus part in The Wiz.

When I had the chance, I visited her at the bookstore where she worked behind the coffee bar. I didn’t have my driver’s licence yet, and I remember trying to prod my dad towards the idea that he needed to buy himself a new book. She told me that they were going to move to Los Angeles, that they would be gone by the Fall. They invited me to their wedding that summer, and my heart broke when I realized I’d be out of town. I don’t remember the last time I saw her, but a friend gave me a picture from the wedding. I still have it, along with all my photos from those other plays. When I was in Oklahoma! the next year, I missed her voice. I don’t know how obvious it was to her, but she meant a lot to me.

5. Round Are Way — Oasis (with a side of Up in the Sky)
I almost forgot about “Round Are Way,” a joyous b-side that used to get more play around the time of Morning Glory. The first time I heard it was during the MTV Unplugged set, where the band could really make use of a full horn section and the harmonica. Both the Noel-sung version there and the Liam-sung studio recording are fantastic. Noel’s soaring, lingering delivery is in the thick of a great day:

Round are way, the birds are singin’
Round are way, the sun shines bright.


The song blends effortlessly into “Up in the Sky” without pause:

Hey you, up in the sky
learning to fly
tell me how high
Hey you, up in your tree
D’you wanna be me?
Well that couldn’t be.


There’s also the nice matching of the line “He didn’t and shoulda brought his lines in yesterday” in “Round Are Way” and the “Up in the Sky line, “Hey you, stealin’ your lines/ I heard that the shine’s gone outta your mind.”

Liam’s recorded version has a bigger guitar sound, and the delivery is all strut, all man-who-owns-the-world. “Round are way the birds sing for ya cos they already know ya” is followed a few lines later by, “There’s gonna be a loser and you know the next goal wins.” Having backing vocals brings the song even more into a confident stride.

Once again, I’m going to mention a mediocre movie with a great soundtrack. A Life Less Ordinary features a scene where Ewan McGregor’s character comes back from grocery shopping, the morning after he and the Cameron Diaz character have slept together. He is triumphant, in a fabulous mood, and he is singing “Round Are Way.” For whatever reason, the song is not on the actual soundtrack, but I remember being thrilled that the song was used even for a few lines.

I have no idea why the title is “Round Are Way” and not “Round Our Way.” I know I read a quote from Noel Gallagher explaining it once, but I don’t remember it. I’m sure it was something to the effect of “Because I fucking felt like it, all right?” Who knows.

I challenge you to be in a bad mood after listening to this song. Bring out that inner bravado, tell the world they can’t get you down, that you own more than they’ll ever know.

Honorable Mention: Run Around — Blues Traveler
“I’m determined to learn all of the words to this song,” Amanda said to me once. Maybe she can say if she did. I’m not sure why I’ve held onto this particular memory, but the brain chooses what it wants, I suppose. We were at the stoplight on 10th Ave. next to Albertson’s, and the song came on the radio. Her dad was driving, but I don’t think the dog was in the car with us. I am also reminded of my high school journalism convention trip to San Francisco. In the hotel lobby, Old Boyfriend pointed at a big guy wearing a big hat and said, “Hey, check it out. That guy looks like John Popper!” He did, but little did I know that the guy was in the same group as my husband. I didn’t know him then, but we’d be engaged by the end of the year.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if I ever learned all the words to that song! I'll have to wait to hear it on the radio and see if I can sing along.

    ReplyDelete