Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter Y

1. You’re Missing — Bruce Springsteen
I don’t want to discount the loss of a family member that occurs over time due to illness, but I have difficulty imagining a worse feeling than the losses that come out of nowhere. Be it from an accident, a crime, the sudden failing of the body and everything else so abrupt, the shock hits in the same way one crashes into a wall. The shock moves in waves, your head spinning and stomach turning the same way it did when you spent a minute too long on a carnival ride. Every loss is horrible and tough, and I don’t know if having a long good-bye is any easier. However, to expect a person to return when they leave for work one day, and then they just... don’t...

Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
for you to walk in, for you to walk in
but you’re missing


I never went to see my dad at the funeral home, telling everyone that I “didn’t need to see it to confirm it.” I wanted to have my last images remembered as living ones, and we did not have him or even a photo at the funeral. To do so would have been unnecessarily difficult. That whole week, I found myself making unrelated conversation with everyone, even laughing a little. I looked and felt horrible, but my natural reaction to my mother being so upset was to be the one who kept it together. I didn’t know what else to do, and then I worried that I came off unaffected.

Everything is everything
but you’re missing


The church was filled past capacity with people I’d known and known of since birth. I recognized rows upon rows of faces when I walked in, yet I tried not to fully look at anyone. To be spoken of in that situation, sitting right there in all my conflicted mess, felt odd. Even more odd, however, was having to remind people who I was. All these faces I knew, people who knew my mother and my brother called home from Marine training, saw me with my no-longer-blonde hair, dry cheeks. I noticed the look. The look that puzzled over who exactly I was and why I might be standing with the family. To say I felt about ten steps removed from it all doesn’t begin to articulate the experience.

Children are asking if it’s all right
Will you be in our arms tonight?


When Tim Russert died a couple of weeks ago — also a heart attack, also at work, also after saying to someone else how out of sorts he felt — I found myself glad I didn’t have cable news channels. Just the coverage on NBC alone wrecked me. I tried to keep it together in front of Grace, but I couldn’t. His son, Luke (which is my brother’s name), is about the same age I was when my dad died. He and I shouldn’t have much of anything in common, but there he was, on television and able to speak. Laughing a little.

Morning is morning,
the evening falls


I included this song in my list because I enjoyed it, though at a bit of a distance. I enjoyed it before it applied to my life, so once it did, I could still listen without too much distress. It was one of the first songs I thought of when it came to the Letter Y, chosen months ago. During the coverage of Tim Russert’s life and career, NBC played “You’re Missing” over images of the lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan. Now, I’m not sure I can listen to the song without heartache, without thinking about how the unexpected is not uncommon. I do not wish the feeling on anyone, but I do wish that I wasn’t able to know that so soon.

2. You Were Meant For Me — Jewel
Is it still too soon? Are you all still sick of this song almost fourteen years after its release? If that’s the case, well, then the only consolation I can offer you is I’m referring to the album version and not the single. It’s the only version I have. They differ in arrangement a little — just enough that if you’re used to hearing it one way, it trips you up singing with the chorus.

The summer I turned fourteen, I listened to Pieces of You somewhere in the neighborhood of forty gerbillion times. I wasn’t the only one — just about everyone I knew owned it, even including the boyfriend I had at the time. The songs were inescapable, just enough challenge to sing and offered just enough to think about at our newly aware age. Songs like the title track and “Adrian” dealt with the uncomfortable and sad, “Painters” and “Morning Song” were love stories we gobbled up like we knew what it meant. We wanted to know what it meant, at least. Lines like “I got my eggs and I got my pancakes too/I got my maple syrup/everything but you” are easier to dismiss away from the teenage sense of drama, when everything holds importance. However, when she steers away from listing every detail of her lonely day, she says something very true:

I go about my business and I’m doing fine
Besides, what would I say if I had you on the line?
Same old story, not much to say
Hearts are broken every day


Jewel may not be a consistently good songwriter, and sometimes her attempts at being insightful feel a little forced, but just enough lands so well that I kept listening through her third album. Where the first album caught me at a time of testing my limits and having my first real boyfriend (who I broke up with for someone else... it’s the same old story, again and again), the second hit me at a time of defining faith and realizing more who I was. The third had me breaking away, testing my limits again into adulthood, shaking anyone I’d outgrown. Her newer music hasn’t interested me. I’ve outgrown her as well, really. Every once in awhile though, I like to play the songs that coincided with that great sorting of life, and I can’t dismiss a bit of it.

3. Yes, Anastasia — Tori Amos
I’ve always thought this song would have been fantastic to choreograph, though it would have to be edited to a third of its nine and a half minute running time. Both the first and second half could be shaped into something great, as much as I favor the big strings and loudness of the second half. I considered the song when I decided to perform a solo in my last year of dance. I ended up doing a splice of the instrumental portions of her songs “Icicle” and “Mother” instead. I think it worked out fairly well, though I’m not a particularly strong choreographer. I can envision bursts, but it took some time to work out three minutes for myself. The movement was a mix of ballet and modern, though heavier on the ballet. I may be built more like a tap dancer than a ballerina, but I’ve always enjoyed the fluidity and big leaps. Much of Tori Amos’s music lends itself well to ballet — her music is nothing if not one swirling, complex story in emotion. To me, you could do an entire show with Under the Pink. Each song has a lot going on, each sounding different from the one that came before while still very much being part of one package.

I’m a big fan of lengthy album closers, actually. I haven’t noticed the practice on more recent albums, but then, maybe I’m out of the loop. However, I enjoy a long final thought. Ani DiFranco has a few, like the aforementioned “Pulse” and the fun “Hat-Shaped Hat.” Bush’s “Alien” (though technically not the last song) is lengthy and Beth Orton closes Trailer Park with the ten minute “Galaxy of Emptiness.” I think it may have to do with the movement into 70-80 minute CDs during the 90s, away from the time constraints of the 45-50 minute vinyl format. CDs gave more room to meander on a thought, and I suppose now an mp3 could be as long as you wanted it to be. However, I don’t know enough about current album trends to know the difference they make. If anything, albums are hovering around the 45 minute mark again.

What I like about a lengthy last song is by that point, the music has marinated in my brain enough to where all sorts of ideas arise. The music reminds me of other songs, other feelings, and having an uninterrupted stretch to consider all that I’ve heard can be good. Listening before bed can be both good and troublesome because if I end up being inspired to work on something of my own, I’m often too tired to remember the next day. However, the thoughts probably never fully disappear. They roll around and pop out new, and I may never realize when they first occurred to me.

I never pretend to completely know what Tori Amos is talking about in her lyrics, but she conveys moods very well. “Yes, Anastasia” lends itself introspection and urgency, and for me, is more about the music than the words. I love the full symphony backing. One could dedicate an entire class to dissecting her lyrics, but usually when I hear her music, I feel it in terms of movement. I think of my younger self, trying to make do with the square of free space in my bedroom, wondering what I could accomplish.

4. Your Love is the Place I Come From — Teenage Fanclub
I’ve heard Nick Hornby doesn’t like Oasis. I refuse to read it for myself because I can’t have my favorite author hating my favorite band — I just can’t be conflicted like that. The music he discusses in Songbook, including Teenage Fanclub, falls right in line with artists I really enjoy. Much of it I owned, and therefore I could really understand and relate to how he wrote about them. I can’t relate to not liking Oasis, not even one smidgen of “seeing it from the other side.” I can maybe, maybe, wrap my head around ambivalence, but active dislike? Forget it. I don’t care if someone has what they see as a convincing argument otherwise, I won’t hear of it, and I certainly do not want to ruin my enjoyment of writers who may disagree with me. Just let me stay in the dark, operating under the illusion that everything and everyone I really like all feel the same about each other.

I own two Teenage Fanclub albums, two cassettes I bought at Hastings for 25 cents each when they were clearing out the last of the format. The discount bin was rich in quality — I also picked up David Bowie’s Low for less than a dollar, Letters to Cleo as well — but I also had easy access to a cassette player at the time. My car had one for about a year, and my bedroom stereo could play both CDs and tapes. I thought having the cassette format would be no big deal, no real difference in the amount I would listen.

I was wrong. I had a few surface listens of Teenage Fanclub and while I thought I would enjoy them if I sat down to absorb the songs, my CD collection was growing. Before long, my cassette player in my car started to eat tapes and I received a replacement CD player for my birthday. I can’t tell you a single song off those albums, much less the album titles. I’d have to go dig them out of the box with the rest of my old tapes, and then ask Grace if I can borrow the Tyson’s ancient CD/cassette boom box we gave her.

I’m starting to think maybe I should. When I heard this song and “Ain’t that Enough” on the Songbook CD, I thought that maybe the band had come to me in the wrong point in life. While I may have had one of those gut hunches that I’d like the band (and hey, two albums for 50 cents? Why not?), maybe that hunch was for my future self. Albums can be growers, and I know almost ten years is a long time for an album to become interesting, but I do think I’d enjoy them now.

My interwub-friend Michael may have a little to do with my reconsidering of the band too. Besides U2, he’s had a Teenage Fanclub song for probably half the letters in the alphabet. Our music tastes overlap enough to where I’m thinking that I’ve been missing out all this time. He’s about the only one who I think isn’t holding back on making fun of my Oasis adoration, so that may boost my opinion of him, but I do always appreciate a reliable source of music recommendation. Anyone willing to listen to me blather on about the stuff I like gets a thumbs up, so any of you that have made this far into the project, I thank you for the indulgence.

“Your Love is the Place I Come From” has thematic elements that carry over into other songs I love--- “You never deny what you feel inside/ I disappear when you’re not here in my life.” A semi-scratchy voice delivered over guitar and a splash of piano has “Music I Like” written all over it. Their other offering on the Songbook disc, “Ain’t That Enough,” sounds a little different, a bit more polished, but great nonetheless.

I think it may be time to locate that box of tapes.

5. You Had Time — Ani DiFranco
Tyson had an entire book idea flash through his brain after hearing these opening lines:

How can I go home with nothing to say?
I know you’re going to look at me that way
and say, “What did you do out there?
What did you decide?
You said you needed time and you had time.”


He wrote an entire story for National Novel Writing Month in only two weeks. Though it came out pretty well, a few years later, he’s had other idea for it that will make it stronger when he gets a chance to work on it. The story didn’t have much to do with the end of a relationship — that was more the jumping off point — but I’m always interested in the different ways inspiration hits people.

Anyone creative will have the question “Where do you get your ideas?” thrown at them. The stock answer is either a blank stare followed by “What a dumb question,” or the person will come up with some sort of vaguely intellectual bullshit answer. I think creativity comes out of anywhere, it is both internal and external. Anyone who says every thought they’ve ever had is 100% original is either lying to you or lying to themselves.

I guess everything is timing
I guess everything’s been said


The challenge, I suppose, is to take that inspiration and make it feel new. Say it better than it has been said before, say it a little different that the person who came before. There’s a difference between inspiration and imitation, and I think sometimes the two are confused. To discount whatever turned on your brain in the first place is not being honest about the creativity. Ideas are everywhere.

You will take the heavy stuff
and you will drive the car
and I’ll look out the window and make jokes
about the way things are


I suppose the right answer to that oft-asked question is, I’d be worried if the ideas ever stopped.

Honorable Mention:
Your Face — The Frames

“This song is really about listening to Bob Marley, on a stereo, end of summer, off school, making tapes for your mates,” Glen Hansard says during the Set List performance. The band plays through the song and lets it bleed into “Redemption Song,” and it works well. I wanted to use this one for the main five, but I found I didn’t have much to say about it other than I especially love this section of lines:

I’ve got to send this tape to you
and I’m gonna wait for you
cos I know something about you
There’s something about the things you do
There’s something about your voice


Really, I cannot recommend Set List enough. The studio albums cannot match the energy of their live performance, and I wish I could tell you that from actually being there, but this album makes a decent substitute.

No comments:

Post a Comment