Saturday, December 27, 2008

Excerpt from the tenatively titled Like Seeing Stars

(A very first draft conversation from this year's NaNoWriMo. I don't know if I feel brave or masochistic.)

“Mick?” Sam’s voice startled me. “Your phone.”

Indeed, my phone sat buzzing on the end table, and when I picked it up to see who it was, I said, “Oh, speaking of . . . ” As I answered, I stood and started walking toward the bedroom. “Mom, hey.”

“Merry Christmas, darling,” she answered in her low, nicotine-stained voice. “How are you?”

“I’m fine.” I glanced at the clock by the bed. “Isn’t it late where you are?”

“Mmm, it might be,” she said. “I was just sitting here with a glass of wine, looking at the tree, and I was thinking about you. Do you remember the year we had your grandparents come?”

“And you and your mother argued over the turkey?” I laughed. “Yes, I remember. It was something out of a movie.”

“How’s Sam, darling?” She sounded as though the glass of wine to which she referred was not her first. “I’m not interrupting am I?”

It surprised me that she thought to ask. “No, you’re fine,” I said. “His parents are here from Seattle. We were just opening a few gifts.”

“Oh, that’s right. Did you get the money I sent?”

“Yes, thank you.” The previous Friday, a check for two hundred dollars came in the mail, as it always did.

“Buy yourself something you’ve had your eye on,” she said, as she always does.

“I will.” Out in the living room, I heard Sam laughing. “You know, right before you called, I was thinking of you too. What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Dinner with Bev and Malcolm, from down the road. Taking pity on an old widow, naturally.” She laughed. “I went in to get my hair done last week and Janine — You remember Janine, right? — Well, I went to get my hair done, and Janine said that I was lucky to have such a nice shade of grey coming in, that some people just become washed out, like someone spilled paint remover on their heads.”

My mother’s prone to simile. “Mom, you’re not even sixty.”

“Which makes the grey hair all the more depressing, darling.”

“All right, well cut the old widow stuff, at least.” Keeping the light off, I laid back on the bed and stared up at the fixture. “I look older than you do.”

She laughed, but didn’t disagree. I should point out that she hasn’t seen me in nearly two years, so imagine what I look like now. “Thank you for the flowers, by the way. They’re lovely.” She paused and I heard the click of her lighter, followed by a rough intake of breath. “Am I keeping you? What did you get Sam?”

“Gloves and uh, a book. He hasn’t opened it yet.”

“I’m keeping you.”

“No, Mom, you’re really not.” I closed my eyes. “How’s everything going? Lucinda looking after you?”

She groaned. “Oh yes, she’s trying to get me to eat salmon. You know how I feel about . . . sea creatures. I don’t care how good they are for my bones, it’s like eating, well . . . I won’t say that. It’s rude.”

My turn to laugh. “You must be enjoying that wine if you’re almost making dirty jokes. My, the ex-bohemian in you may just come out yet.”

“I’ve been very leisurely with the wine, Mick. It’s the Xanax that’s not sitting quite right.”

My mother and I are more alike than I care to admit sometimes. The comfortable haze from my gin and tonics was beginning to thin. What would the holidays be without conversation between distant family, made possible only by mind-altering substance? “You should be careful with that,” I said.

“You’re one to talk.” She paused. “How’s Laraine?”

“Oh, right about now she’s probably wishing she had other things to do.”

“Hmm, see everyone thinks that at one point, that they just can’t wait until they can have a Christmas away from their family. You think, God, how can I even come from these people? And then one day, you’re the only one left staring at that tree and that’s . . . that’s just it.”

“Mom — ”

“I’m going to slink off to bed now, all right?” She exhaled. “Give everyone my best. And tell Laraine not to be so hard on her mother.”

“Of course.” I told her I loved her, and we hung up. When I opened my eyes, they took a moment to focus while I rubbed the moisture from their corners. Blinking a couple of times, I sat up and walked back into the living room. Dan and Meredith sat watching whatever was on the television, and I heard Sam in the kitchen, so I followed the noise. When I poked my head in, he had just started opening a bottle of wine.

“How’s your mother?” he said. I opened the cabinet and took out the glasses. They were a little dusty, so I began rinsing them under the faucet.

“Lonely,” I said.

Sam and I waited to exchange gifts until the next morning. He bought me some nice shirts and some old movies I’d mentioned not having seen in quite some time. He liked book, found it funny, having entirely to do with sandwiches. The black gloves, however, did not match the boots from his parents. He insisted that they were fine, and I wanted to believe him.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

“Tell The World That You Love Them in a Melody”

“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to be who you are. We made it to be a stadium band. How, I do not fucking know. Because we’re not stadium rock stars. I genuinely think that people come to an Oasis gig to be with other people at an Oasis gig. We don’t really have to entertain the crowd, they entertain themselves. I like that bit in between the songs where there’s silence, because that’s human atmosphere. There’s that buzz, ‘What are they going to play next?’”
— Noel Gallagher (Q Magazine, Oct. 2008)

As an unabashed fan of Oasis, it should come as no surprise that I love Dig Out Your Soul. I’m in love with the delivery, the details and the drums. The choir, the keyboards and the controlled chaos, all of it thrills me. I have a habit of saying I love it when music goes big, and this is the sort of album that commands attention by way of assault. It differs a fair amount from anything else Oasis has done before, but plenty of people have pointed that out already, including themselves. What’s funny about all the talk ahead of time — all the small teasers and the use of buskers for promotion — is that on the first listen, the album felt both familiar and surprising. I went in knowing so much, and yet I enjoyed it in ways I did not anticipate. Who knew I could get excited about more than one bassline? So much goes on between the music and lyrics, and yet unlike Be Here Now, none of it feels superfluous. They’re proud of their effort, and it shows.

Yes, plenty has already been said about the sound of each song. Track by track breakdowns have appeared in magazines since Spring, and I’m not one to go off dissecting influences, nor do I have a great need to come up with new adjectives to describe how the songs work. They work because they’re good. In fact, some of them are exceptional. Those who want to discredit music because it reminds them of something else should ask themselves the following questions:

What inspires you to do what you do?

How different are you to what has come before?

Music isn’t an intellectual exercise. We press play, we pick up that instrument, we sing along to the radio not because we want to prove how smart and unique we are. We do all those things because we want to feel that music in the very deepest parts of ourselves, to feel that connection between creator and listener. We want the sense that someone feels the same.

Noel Gallagher says they didn’t start writing intending to use religious imagery, that it just managed to thread its way through the album, regardless of the author or their beliefs. I’d say that religion and music are so closely connected, the language is bound to overlap. Music is a faith all its own, whether or not you believe in the big eye in the sky. Music stirs the soul, takes hold of our hearts, gives us a sense of understanding the great and murky corners of life. Name me a religion that does not have its own form of song. We play music when we leave school, when we marry and when we die. Everyone has that song that reminds them of the most important moments in their life.

Musicians are fans first. Musicians become what they are because some song, some group along the way made them say, “This feeling inside me, now I know how to let it out.” If that end result is something that moves people, does it matter if it is derivative? Show me a true original. Show me a song that doesn’t either honor or build upon something that has come before. The question “Where do you get your ideas?” wouldn’t be asked so often if we truly expected every creative venture to be unlike anything else.

Dig Out Your Soul makes the argument for music as faith, that we are a product of history, and how we all need someone in our corner. We need to be stirred, and we need to stir others.

Everything I believe in is telling me I want more

If you carry the lantern, I’ll carry you home

She took my hand and picked me up off the floor

My head’s in the clouds but at least I’m trying

Here’s a song that reminds me of when we were young

I hear your soul song singing from a fire in the sky

I said if you won’t save me, please don’t waste my time

In through locked doors, up to secret floors where we’ve all stood before

I don’t care what they say anymore, all I want is the truth

Space and time and here and now are only in your mind

Sing a song, solider on

The sounds that move me may not move you, and it’s that debate that creates and drives all different types of music. Trying to explain why in an intellectual way is like trying to ‘prove’ faith. You either get it or you don’t. I’ve yet to find God in anything, but I never feel more connected to the world and all that may lie beyond than I do while hearing my favorite songs.

Dig out your heart-stealers, your tear-jerkers, your fist-shakers. Turn them on, turn them loud and never apologize for loving them.

Friday, September 26, 2008

This One's a Heartbreaker

If you couldn’t be the woman you’d always said you’d be,
then I wish you’d spared me the time . . .
You say you can only do so much, say so much
And love’s just a line
But I remember . . . I remember when I said I’d give you the sky
You said,
‘Darling, whatever we’ve got’s more than enough to get by.’
Now I’m staring back at seven years
and Lord I needed them to be good
But Darling, here’s the heartbreaker
I’m gonna be more than you ever could

One of these days you’ll say, ‘That song’s for me,
I’m the heartbreaker,’ and I say
You’ve had it wrong all this time
You’re going to see the problems, they weren’t all mine
Darling, this song may be about you
But for you, I ain’t got the time

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

All Songs Set to Shuffle 9/4/08 and 9/5/08 (partial):

1. Redundant- Green Day
2. I Can Make You a Man - Rocky Horror Picture Show
3. Northern Sky - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers, Limited Edition)
4. Everything I Do - Whiskeytown (Strangers Almanac)
5. Sidewinder - Teenage Fanclub (Bandwagonesque)
6. Cry - The Sundays (Static & Silence)
7. World on Fire - Sarah McLachlan (Afterglow)
8. Dreams - Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)
9. Cold Water - Damien Rice (O)
10. Brain Crack - Tracy Bonham (The Burdens of Being Upright)
11. Sleep to Dream - Fiona Apple (Tidal)
12. Pipe Dreams - Travis (The Invisible Band)
13. Already There - The Verve (A Storm in Heaven)
14. The Bar is a Beautiful Place - Ryan Adams (Gold: Side 4)
15. Run Devil Run - Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins
16. Helter Skelter - Oasis (Familiar to Millions)
17. Black and White Town - Doves (Some Cities)
18. Sandalwood - Lisa Loeb (Tails) *
19. Between Breaths (an XX perspective) - Blaqk Audio (Cexcells)
20. Goodbye Stranger - Supertramp (Magnolia soundtrack)
21. Answer - Sarah McLachlan (Afterglow)
22. Tear in Your Hand - Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes)
23. Money to Burn - Richard Ashcroft (Alone With Everybody)
24. The Blood - The Frames (Set List: Live in Dublin)
25. Hang On - Teenage Fanclub (Thirteen)
26. Summertime - The Sundays (Static & Silence)
27. Afterglow - Travis (The Invisible Band)
28. She - The Sundays (Static & Silence)
29. High 5 (Rock the Catskills) - Beck (Odelay)
30. Almost Doesn't Count - Slackjaw (Buoyancy vs. Gravity)
31. Happy Meal II - The Cardigans (First Band on the Moon) *
32. Raspberry Swirl - Tori Amos (From the Choirgirl Hotel) *
33. I Guess You're Right - The Posies (Every Kind of Light)
34. Friends - Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (Cold Roses)
35. Personality Complex- Teenage Fanclub & Donna Matthews (Velvet Goldmine soundtrack)
36. Stand By Me - Oasis (Familiar to Millions)
37. St. Andrew's Hall - Blind Melon (Nico)
38. 33 Zen Lane - Bitch and Animal (Eternally Hard) *
39. Talk Tonight - Oasis *
40. A Place Aside - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers)
41. Round Are Way - Oasis (MTV Unplugged) *
42. Criminal - Fiona Apple (Tidal)
43. Painters - Jewel (Pieces of You)
44. Little Things - Bush (Sixteen Stone)
45. Empty Baseball Park - Whiskeytown (Faithless Street)
46. Cigarettes and Alcohol - Oasis (Definitely Maybe)
47. Merry Christmas - Noel Gallagher
48. Swan Dive - Ani DiFranco (Little Plastic Castle)
49. Mindchanger - Bush (The Science of Things)
50. Where Did It All Go Wrong (semi-acoustic) - Oasis

1. Be Here Now - Oasis (Be Here Now)
2. Go Your Own Way - NOFX
3. Listen Up - Oasis (The Masterplan)
4. Mighty Dwarves - Volumen (Super Confident Guy)
5. God Bless Mum - The Frames (Set List: Live in Dublin)
6. When The Levee Breaks - Led Zeppelin (Mothership)
7. Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin (Mothership)
8. Somehow, Someday - Ryan Adams (Gold)
9. Sweet Illusions - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals (Cold Roses)
10. Good Enough - Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
11. Tomorrow Never Knows - The Beatles (Revolver)
12. Safe in Your Arms - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers)
13. Again, Again and Again - Blaqk Audio (Cexcells)
14. Discoteque - U2
15. Bitter-Sweet - The Venus in Furs (Velvet Goldmine soundtrack)
16. Prizefighter - Bush (The Science of Things)
17. Dreams - Fleetwood Mac (The Dance)
18. Landslide - Fleetwood Mac (The Dance)
19. Avenues - Whiskeytown (Strangers Almanac)
20. The Panda Song - Sifl & Olly
21. Alive - Oasis
22. The Rising - Bruce Springsteen (The Rising)
23. Nothing Man - Bruce Springsteen (The Rising)
24. The Disease of the Dancing Cats - Bush (The Science of Things)
25. Swim - Bush (Sixteen Stone)
26. The Wrong Band - Tori Amos (Under the Pink)
27. Helicopter - Bloc Party (Silent Alarm)
28. Don't Ask For the Water - Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker)
29. I Go To Sleep - Pretenders (The Singles)
30. Feel to Believe - Beth Orton (Central Reservation) *
31. Of Angels & Angles - The Decemberists (Picaresque)
32. Hung in a Bad Place - Oasis (Heathen Chemistry)
33. [Track 12] - Run Lola Run soundtrack
34. Virtual World - The Verve (A Storm in Heaven)
35. Don't Burst My Bubble - The Small Faces (Q Presents Rule Britannia)
36. D'Yer Mak'er - Led Zeppelin (Mothership)
37. Sound and Vision - David Bowie (Sound + Vision III)
38. Slide Away (acoustic, Noel) - Oasis *
39. Don't Stop - Fleetwood Mac (The Dance)
40. The People That We Love - Bush (Golden State)
41. I Don't Know - Teenage Fanclub (Bandwagonesque)
42. What We Begin - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers Limited Edition)
43. Summertime - The Sundays (Static & Silence)
44. Stolen Car - Beth Orton (Central Reservation)
45. Price of Gas - Bloc Party (Silent Alarm)
46. Butterfly - The Verve (A Storm in Heaven)
47. When a Woman Loves a Man - Billie Holiday
48. Precious Things - Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes)
49. The Prettiest Star - David Bowie (Sound + Vision I)
50. Rock n Roll Star - Oasis (Live at The Metro 1994)

Compulsive list-making again. Apologies.

Friday, August 29, 2008

“I just listen to their music and I just get it. I get everything about it. I get the words, I get the feeling ... all of it.”

-Noel Gallagher on The White Album
Filter Magazine, Fall ‘08

While walking on First Avenue in Seattle, about a half mile from Qwest Field, I passed Ryan Adams. I did a double take, literally spun around and watched him walk up the road. We made eye contact for just a second, and I wondered if I’d really seen him or was it his Seattle twin? When he walked out on stage wearing the same black skinny jeans and black-rimmed glasses, I knew. I made eye contact with one of my favorite musicians, and what’s funny is that I’d been walking around listening to him.

Before the show, I stuck my head into a hotel bar called Jimmy’s. On my way there, I passed a blonde guy wearing what resembled a circus conductor’s jacket. He and his girlfriend had been smoking outside, and I hadn’t realized they’d come in behind me until someone started talking to him. I heard him say, “Actually, I’m playing the show tonight. I’m in the opener.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“The Cardinals.”

I turned around. “I knew you looked familiar. I was just listening to you.”

He’s the guitarist, whose name I'm misplacing. Katy'll remind me. (Katy, remind me.)

He seemed surprised, but flattered and not bothered. I told him that I thought I’d just passed Ryan. He said, “Well, that wouldn’t surprise me if he’s running around. The hotel’s up that direction.”

I left him alone and finished my stupidly expensive Hefeweizen. When he walked on stage, he’d exchanged the conductor’s jacket in favor of a button-up and a vest.

At 3pm, I was not the only one already standing outside the venue. First, I spoke to two Peruvian brothers, who flew up just for the show, then I met Jay and Kara, a couple from LA who have actually met Liam and Noel. Kara has one of Liam’s tambourines, which he gave her during a gig at which she wore a Beatles Sgt. Pepper shirt. Then we all spoke to Jason, a guy from New Orleans with a Don’t Believe the Truth track jacket, along with a British guy, who had yet to find a ticket (he did later, about Row 9 center, for $120). We realized that Oasis was running through their soundcheck, and the four of us, plus the Peruvians, plus three guys who are seeing almost the whole leg of the tour — We all crouched down onto the sidewalk and peered through the glass where the paper didn’t quite cover the doors. Noel stood on stage, playing “Rock n Roll” star. No vocals. Liam’s not around, of course. Earlier, we’d heard Noel singing — we couldn’t place the song — before we’d had the idea with the door. The staff outside didn’t really care that we wandered around. In fact, we ended up deciding for them where the line should start.

Yes, I was one of the very first in line. They didn’t hassle me about my camera, and we were in. In the process, we met a mother and daughter from Long Island, along with a Greek guy also from NYC. The mother and daughter let out an “eeee!” of joy the second we got inside. I hit up the merch booth right away, plunked down my $45 for a t-shirt and poster, knowing that for anyone else, I would not have bothered. I wish I’d had the money to blow on the track jacket.

For whatever reason, they’d added Matt Costa to the bill. He was doing a last minute soundcheck when they let everyone in at 5:30, so we weren’t allowed into the actual theater area just yet. Jay, Kara, Jason and I sat and chatted for a few minute before we all were able to find our seats. We made plans to email any photos we took.

Let me tell you, when I saw how close Row 9 was, I wanted to hit anyone involved with Ticketmaster for booting me the first time I tried to book tickets. However, Row 18, Seat 15 was an aisle sea, right in line between Liam and Noel’s stage positions. Fantastic.

Matt Costa played a short, 30 minutes-ish set, and while I wouldn’t run out and buy his stuff, I didn’t mind listening to him.

He seemed just shocked that he could open for Ryan Adams and Oasis, and the audience seemed to like him well enough.

Ryan and The Cardinals — I messed with the manual settings on my camera, and it just wasn’t coming together for me. The lighting was a bit low, and the camera is not an SLR, so the shots weren’t quite as good. (Oasis, oddly enough, looked best in auto mode. I don’t know if I just should have done that in the first place.) However, I am glad that I’d given myself a Ryan refresher beforehand — he has a ton of material, some I’ve only recently acquired — and knowing almost all the songs really made it for me. By far, the biggest surprise was “Shakedown on 9th,” off Heartbreaker. It’s one of my favorites, but that has a little to do with the line, ”Lucy! Lucy, my gal” and how it riles the cat.

So. Ryan Adams sure has some skinny legs. Those things may as well be some people’s arms. He talked a little between songs. He introduced “Let It Ride” by saying, “This one’s about sucking face.”

Before “Everyone Knows”: “This song goes out to our friend Ray in Tennessee.” He goes on about some story regarding Ray getting hurt hunting bison in Alaska and how “Bison aren’t like unicorns. They’re multi-corns. Do Bison still exist?” Someone yells out Yellowstone. “So this one goes out to Ray, hunting possibly prehistoric animals.”

Before “Two”: “This song is about bringing down math. You count to any more than 4 or 5, and after that, it’s just a lot. I’m from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Any more than 4 or 5, and well, that’s a lot.”

“Easy Plateau” about tore the roof off the place, just a pounding swirl of noise and lights at the end. A fantastic closer. I loved every second of the set, and I can’t believe I passed right by him and got a “You’re looking at me” look from the man. “Two” sounded just beautiful — one of my favorites — and I liked hearing “Rescue Blues,” since it’s a semi-oldie.

The take down time between sets was less then 20 minutes. Always a sign of bands that have been at this awhile— they don’t feel around. No ridiculous set pieces here, just good lighting and video screens for visuals.

Before the concert, Tyson said over the phone, “You’re going to cry, aren’t you?” I thought it’d be in the realm of possibility, despite my status as a non-public crier. However, when Oasis walked out on stage, I just stopped breathing for a moment.

You all know of my major love affair with everything Noel Gallagher does, but when Liam stepped up to the mic in all his swagger, he just owned the place. He takes all the energy in the room and commands its focus — it’s really something. Liam’s tendency to stay put on stage does not come from lack of imagination. No, Liam Gallagher stays put because he can. Less frontmen might hide behind the jumping around, using that energy to boost and distract. Sure, there’s a place for all that, but with Liam, all he’s got to do is stare straight ahead and you’re hooked. It’s about the songs, his voice, and it’s a very honest way of going about it.

(It also makes taking a photo a lot easier, especially when my hands were fidgety with excitement already...)

But Noel, Lord... Noel, I could hardly believe I was looking at him. The white striped shirt, the patch of grey hair at the front— he was exactly how I thought he’d be. If Liam’s other worldly, a force to be reckoned with, then Noel’s the one tapped into the deepest part of my brain, just woven right into the fabric of everything else. The two of them on stage together are simply stunning. If there’s anything I love, it’s a person who’s not afraid to be the best in the room. They don’t fool around. You find your calling and then, dammit, you go go go until you are the example by which others are measured.

(Explains a lot in my choice of a spouse, really.)

No, I did not cry like Tyson predicted, but “The Shock of The Lightning” and “Slide Away” almost had me. I could feel that burn in my cheeks, but singing and crying don’t mix. I swelled with just pure relief of finally making it. They had every instrument set to avalanche levels, just buried everyone inside the sound.

I thought of Grace during “Lyla.” I just love that she says it’s her favorite song.

“Meaning of Soul” made me particularly happy. It’s one of my favorites from Don’t Believe The Truth. I just love the big, stomp-along beat and ”I’m a different breed/ You know, I’m outta your league/ I’m 10 outta 10 all right.”

“To Be Where There’s Life” was the only new one I wasn’t at all familiar with. The new album’s title, Dig Out Your Soul, comes from that one. Another big and loud one.

“The Masterplan” had Noel saying, “you might remember this one.” They piped in the strings sample and it was a great, slightly stripped down version.

Oh now “Songbird” and “Slide Away” stood out, just giant highlights. Not only does “Songbird” have claps at the end, but it’s just a nice little love song. “Gonna write a song so she can see/ Give her all the love she gives to me...” Andy got on the keyboards for that one.

“Slide Away” may just be the perfect love song. Wow. “Live Forever” may be my favorite song, but this comes in very close. Not often performed live, Liam introduced it as, “Here’s an old one.”

They didn’t do a lot of talking between songs. Noel did a little more than Liam, as usual, but they kept the business of rock n roll moving.

“Ain’t Got Nothing,” I’d already heard the leaked demo and it did not disappoint. The wait for the new album will be trying. Noel’s self-sung “The Importance of Being Idle” didn’t surprise me by popping up in the set, as he seems quite proud of that one.

Liam’s voice has evolved quite a bit from where he first tried singing “nice” on parts of Definitely Maybe (if you listen to the demo of “Cigarettes and Alcohol,” it’s like hearing a different person). His mix of snarl/drawl struck me the most during “Wonderwall.” He’s always said that if he could be the perfect mix of John Lennon and John Lydon, then he’d be doing his job. If you want a good idea of where his voice hit at this, I suggest listening to “Won’t Let You Down” or the leaked “Ain’t Got Nothing” demo.

Noel’s voice soared as it always does. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” got the guitar treatment, and the NME has a video up. At the point where people tend to sing for him, he commented that it sounded Australian. There’s something about his intonation that, for lack of less flowery language, sends a flutter up through me every time. “Falling Down,” of which I’ve already heard the Chemical Brothers remix, is just transcendent, dance beat or no. The “ooh”s alone... Man.

Hearing “Champagne Supernova,” the song that first caught my attention, pleased me. Sure, they didn’t play “Live Forever,” but they’ve played it in so many sets that I can see the appeal of working in other big set closers that everyone knows.

To be honest, I don’t often listen to their cover of “I Am the Walrus.” I always had the feeling that I’d missed something in the delivery. Hearing it live and in person made all the difference.

At the soundcheck (according to a list posted online) and at the warm-up, 150 person gig in London, they played “My Big Mouth,” but did not during the show. If I had to list any disappointment, it’d be that. Be Here Now usually goes under appreciated, and that song’s one of my favorites from the album. (“I Hope, I Think, I Know” will always be too much for which to hope, I’m afraid.)

Liam and Gem both rocked the scarf. I dig the scarf. Not everyone can pull off the scarf (though many a hipster doofus will try), but when worn well... Have I mentioned that Tyson looks great in a scarf? A winter scarf, mind, but all the same. Andy looked older in person, for whatever reason. Less blonde too. And for all Noel’s joking that they were after the Spinal Tap record, Chris the new drummer did really well. There’s some serious drumming on the new stuff he’s had to learn.

In person, Liam looked... smaller? That’s not the right adjective. I’ve been searching for the right word. Shorter isn’t correct because he’s about average height and I knew that. Thinner’s not quite right either, but he doesn’t wear the giant shirts and jackets anymore, so... more tailored? Maybe.

After the show, when I met back up with Jay and Kara, Kara looked at my photos of Liam with his back turned to the drummer and she said, “Nice ass shot there.”

“Yeah... That’s kinda what I was going for.”

Well, really. He’s something else. You quit wearing giant clothes and I am required by the unwritten laws of female fanhood to take a picture. Amen.

I did not make any post-gig attempts to meet anyone because it was absolutely pouring down rain and I didn’t bring a jacket. Jay and Karen were going to make a go of it, but I just had to track down the bus and get back to my room. They said that if I’m ever in LA for a show, that I should get in touch. How very atypical for me — people aren’t just amused by my... enthusiasm. They were even big Ryan Adams fans, so that was cool. I’ll be curious to heat if Jay met Gem like he wanted. (Amanda, didn’t Gem wave at you once? Or was that Andy?)

Really, it’s all a bit unreal. Waiting 12 years for this was almost too long, but at least I am seeing them in their most stable of times. They’ve found a way to go about it now, and while kids and all that make the space between albums longer (“We certainly don’t hurt for songs,” Liam says), I’m so glad that they’ve carried on and that the quality of the new songs really is exciting.

Yes, I know. You’re just smiling and nodding, if you’ve even made it this far. It’s the sort of unyielding love that’s hard to explain, but there’s really no point in downplaying it. It is what it is, and it will always be.

On the bus ride home, a woman said to her husband regarding Liam, “I don’t know, it’s like he thinks he’s just too fucking cool.”

It’s not a matter of thinking, lady.

(My photos from the concert can be seen HERE.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

All Songs Set To Shuffle Between Aug. 16th & August 19th:


1. I Grieve - Peter Gabriel (City of Angels Soundtrack)
2. On Your Own - The Verve (A Northern Soul) *
3. I'm Only Sleeping - The Beatles (Revolver)
4. Hotel - Tori Amos (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
5. Pull - Blind Melon (Nico)
6. Furious Rose - Lisa Loeb (Firecracker)
7. I'm Afraid of Americans - David Bowie (Earthling) *
8. Fear - Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
9. Extraordinary Machine - Fiona Apple (Extraordinary Machine) *
10. Some Might Say (live) - Oasis (Stop the Clocks EP)
11. It Just Is - Rilo Kiley (More Adventurous)
12. Cosmic Girl - Jamiroquai (Travelling Without Moving)
13. Tu Vuo Fa l'Americano - (Talented Mr. Ripley)
14. Forever May You Run - Gavin Rossdale (Wanderlust)
15. Stand Back - Fleetwood Mac (Live in Boston)
16. Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac (The Dance)
17. My Sweet Lord - George Harrison
18. Sigur Ros - Sigur Ros (Von)
19. History (Dub Pistols Mix) - Bush (Deconstructed)
20. Mouth (Sting Ray Mix) - Bush (Deconstructed)
21. Endlessly, She Said - AFI (decemberunderground)
22. Angel Standing By - Jewel (Pieces of You)
23. Moonage Daydream - David Bowie (Sound + Vision I)
24. A Place Aside - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers)
25. Folk Song - David Gray (Sell Sell Sell)
26. Bleed Black - AFI (Sing the Sorrow)
27. PA - Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (Jacksonville City Nights)
28. The Waitress - Tori Amos (Under the Pink)
29. [Track 10] - Aphex Twin (Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Disc 2)
30. High 5 (Rock the Catskills) - Beck (Odelay)
31. Way Upstate - Slackjaw (Buoyancy vs. Gravity)
32. Round Are Way - Oasis (MTV Unplugged) *
33. Legend of Zelda - System of a Down
34. Hurricane - Lisa Loeb (Tails)
35. Supersonic (Live April 94) - Oasis (Live Forever single)
36. Headshrinker - Oasis (The Masterplan)
37. Of Greetings and Goodbyes - AFI (The Art of Drowning)
38. Married With Children (acoustic) - Oasis *
39. Wait - Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
40. Female of the Species - Space
41. Second Hand News - Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)
42. Mouth - Bush (Razorblade Suitcase)
43. When All The Stars Were Falling - Lisa Loeb (Tails)
44. Stay Young - Oasis (The Masterplan)
45. [Track 16] - Run Lola Run Soundtrack


1. The Chain - Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)
2. Personal Holloway (Fabio Paras/Soundlash Republic Mix) - Bush (Deconstructed)
3. Novacane - Beck (Odelay)
4. Forever May You Run - Gavin Rossdale (Wanderlust)
5. Over At The Frankenstein Place - Rocky Horror Picture Show
6. A Kiss Before I Go - Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (Jacksonville City Nights)
7. Round and Round - David Bowie (Sound + Vison I)
8. Fitzcarraldo - The Frames (Set List: Live in Dublin)
9. Stand By Me (acoustic) - Oasis
10. Not About Love - Fiona Apple (Extraordinary Machine)
11. Tumbling Down - The Venus in Furs (Velvet Goldmine Soundtrack)
12. Galaxy of Emptiness - Beth Orton (Trailer Park)
13. Distant Voice - Bush (Razorblade Suitcase)
14. The Days of the Phoenix - AFI (The Art of Drowning) *
15. It Wasn't Me - Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins (Rabbit Fur Coat)
16. Oh My Sweet Carolina - Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker) *
17. Never Going Back Again - Fleetwood Mac (Rumours) *
18. We Float - PJ Harvey (Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea) *
19. But It In Bottles - Richard Ashcroft (Human Conditions)
20. Everything Zen (Derek DeLarge mix) - Bush (Deconstructed)
21. Blue Sky Blues - Ryan Adams (29)
22. [Track 2] - Aphex Twin (Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Disc 1)
23. Be My Wife - David Bowie (Sound + Vision III)
24. Liquid Diamonds - Tori Amos (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
25. Corky - Volumen (Super Confident Guy EP + Bonus How Do You Spell...?)
26. A Northern Soul - The Verve (A Northern Soul)
27. I've Had It - Aimee Man (Selections from Nick Hornby's Songbook)
28. Rent Day Blues - The Frames (Dance the Devil)
29. I'm So Afraid - Fleetwood Mac (The Dance)
30. Hold On - Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
31. It's War - The Cardigans (A Life Less Ordinary Soundtrack)
32. Rock n Roll Star - Oasis (Live at The Metro, Chicago 94)
33. Every Breath You Take - Robert Downey Jr. and Sting (Ally McBeal)
34. Roll With It - Oasis (What's The Story, Morning Glory)
35. Fade Away (Noel version) - Oasis (some charity album)
36. Teotihuacan - Noel Gallagher (The X-Files Movie Soundtrack)
37. Pieces of Sky - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers)
38. Insect Kin (Jack Dangers/Drum+Bees Mix) - Bush (Deconstructed)
39. Never Recover - The Cardigans (First Band on the Moon)
40. Down So Long - Jewel (Spirit) *
41. Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie (Sound + Vision III)
42. One More Murder - Better Than Ezra (The X-Files Movie Soundtrack)
43. I Am Waiting - Lindsey Buckingham (Under the Skin)
44. Fade In-Out - Oasis (Be Here Now)
45. Little By Little - Oasis (Heathen Chemistry)


1. Where is My Mind (live) - Placebo
2. Eyeball Tickler - Oasis (Lyla single)
3. It Wasn't Me - Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins (Rabbit Fur Coat)
4. [Track 10] - Aphex Twin (Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Disc 2)
5. Pearls on a String - Ryan Adams (Easy Tiger)
6. Songbird - Fleetwood Mac (Rumours) *
7. Smile - AFI (The Art of Drowning)
8. Ashes to Ashes - David Bowie (Sound + Vision III)
9. Magdalena - David Gray (Sell Sell Sell)
10. Icicle - Tori Amos (Under the Pink)
11. Red House - Jimi Hendrix (City of Angels soundtrack) *
12. Glorybound - The Bible (Selections from Nick Hornby's Songbook)
13. Break The Night With Colour - Richard Ashcroft (Keys To The World)
14. Enemy Fire - Ryan Adams (Gold)
15. Wonderwall - Oasis (Familiar to Millions)
16. Live Forever - Oasis (Definitely Maybe) *
17. Eskimo (+ whatever the bonus tracks after are called)- Damien Rice (O)
18. Sylvia Plath - Ryan Adams (Gold)
19. Speed of Life - David Bowie (Sound + Vision III)
20. Baker Baker - Tori Amos (Under the Pink)
21. Furious Rose - Lisa Loeb (Firecracker)
22. X-Girlfriend - Bush (Sixteen Stone) *
23. Starlite Diner - Ryan Adams (29)
24. What If The Guy From Smashing Pumpkins Lost His Car Keys - Stephen Lynch (also known as the first song I listened to in the year 2000)
25. Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac (The Dance)
26. Thinking About Tomorrow - Beth Orton (Daybreaker)
27. He'd Be a Diamond - Teenage Fanclub
28. Chester Air Hockey - Sifl & Olly
29. I Want To Tell You - The Beatles
30. Amy - Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker)
31. Comfort of Strangers - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers)
32. It's Over - Lisa Loeb (Tails)
33. Songbird - Fleetwood Mac (The Dance)
34. Oh Well - Fiona Apple (Extraordinary Machine)
35. Come Pick Me Up - Ryan Adams (Heartbreaker)
36. Hold On - Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
37. Over The Hills and Far Away - Led Zeppelin (Mothership)
38. The Blower's Daughter - Damien Rice (O)
39. One Day - The Verve (Urban Hymns)
40. Whenever - Beth Orton (Trailer Park)
41. Straight No Chaser - Bush (Razorblade Suitcase)
42. This Is Music - The Verve (A Northern Soul)
43. Me and a Gun - Tori Amos (Little Earthquakes)
44. Tusk - Fleetwood Mac (Tusk)
45. Black Dove (January) - Tori Amos (From the Choirgirl Hotel)
46. Alright - Jamiroquai (Travelling Without Moving)
47. Right Hand Man - Joan Osbourne (Relish)
48. My Heart is Broken - Ryan Adams and The Cardinals (Jacksonville City Nights)
49. [Track 4] - Aphex Twin (Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Disc 1)
50. My Oh My - David Gray (White Ladder)
51. Everything Zen - Bush (Sixteen Stone)
52. Cry Til The Morning - Richard Ashcroft (Keys To The World)
53. Second Hand News - Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)
54. Ramshackle - Beck (Odelay)
55. Barcelona - Jewel (Spirit)
56. An English Teacher - Bye Bye Birdie
57. A Place Inside - Beth Orton (Comfort of Strangers)
58. Southern Anthem - Iron & Wine (MOJO Sub Pop 300!)
59. Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues - Ryan Adams (Gold)
60. Beautiful Child - Fleetwood Mac (Tusk)

* featured on Glorified Love Letters: Alphabet Soup

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Between Album Singles: Headphones

Nothing quite beats listening to a favorite song on headphones. From the day I received a Walkman at seven years old, I have yet to find an experience that absorbs me in quite the same way. Enveloping my ears in sound has brought me insight, inspiration and the ability to draw myself back, back, back into the very essence of the music that makes my heart swell. I’ve fallen in love after hearing the right song at the right time, given the chance to immerse myself in nothing else.

Time is never time at all, you can never, ever leave without leaving a piece of you.

Lyrics become clear.
Ideas solidify and consume.
The sharp intake of breath, the sighs, the give and take between instruments are a revelation.
Buried claps give way to secret smiles.

All your dreams are made of strawb’ry lemonade.

During epic vacations, as a passenger on drives across the country, locations determined by the maximum amount of relatives covered, headphones became a means to solace. I thought about who I wanted with me, a person who could have offered just as much escape as these songs filling my head, if only for their presence. I wanted to share the sound and hope that by hearing nothing but my favorite songs, they might feel like did. It wasn’t always the same person, but there has always been a person.

She can’t tell me that all the love songs have been written because she’s never been in love with you before.

For a long time, I would fall asleep with headphones on, setting an album to repeat until the player batteries died or I awoke in the middle of the night with the good sense to preserve their life and finally turn it off. I don’t know that I get into the albums in the same way anymore because I don’t spend enough time concentrating on only the songs. Now, I have the sounds of other people to which I am happy to devote my concern, but lately, I’ve made the time to get lost in my own head. I take all my favorite songs and set them to shuffle. I’ve lost hours of sleep because I wanted to hear the song that came next. Everything I’ve ever written is a result of these songs.

Take me there Take me there Take me there Take me there All I know is you can take me there.

Baby, I love you
Baby, I need you
Baby, I miss you
Baby, it’s the same old thing
It’s nothing but memory, love letters filled with words that never quite do you justice.
I am never more in love than I am at 3 am.

We’ll make millions writing books on the way it should have been.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Final Thoughts on Alphabet Soup/ “What did we learn on the show tonight, Craig?”

If you’re reading this the first week I posted it, then I suggest you scroll down and read Letters Y & Z first. No skipping to the end, kids!

So... what did we learn? We learned that I’m borderline evangelical when it comes to Oasis. We learned that an inordinate amount of my music is at least ten years old. We learned that while we all may have weaknesses, there is always room for improvement. And I suppose the biggest thing I’ve derived from all this is that I have an even greater idea of just how much music has shaped me as a person overall. It’s been a great thinking exercise.

I don’t think I really hit my stride in this project until probably a third, even halfway through. The trouble with writing something in a matter of days and then posting it with very little revision is that I sometimes didn’t quite do enough with some of the songs, or didn’t do the right thing at all. I maybe would even reconsider a few song picks at this point. (Would probably swap out “Kingdom of Lies” for Oasis’s “Keep the Dream Alive,” for example.) Where I might have hesitated to get very personal in the beginning, by the end I pretty much just said, “Ah screw it. Give ‘em what they want cos it sounds better anyway.”

The whole project is just shy of 57,000 words. That’s book length, and I think with the right revisions, it could be one. However, that’s not really something I’m thinking about at the moment (there is, of course, that other book I keep mentioning that I’m working on now).

So, if you’re coming into this late, now that the project’s finished, I still recommend starting at the beginning. The way I talk about the songs gets better, and some of the things I mention sort of build upon each other as the letters go by.

There will be other music projects. There are so many other great songs I just didn’t have room to include even within the loose rules of this project. I’m not sure what I will tackle next, or when (a couple of months, at least), but I’ve been scribbling down ideas as they come to me. I love all sorts of things, not all limited to music, and you’ve all indulged me enough to where I don’t feel too self-absorbed talking about them. I’ll try to keep it participatory because I’ve really enjoyed hearing your own song choices and thoughts.

Thanks again.

Alphabet Soup: The Letter Z

1. Ziggy Stardust — David Bowie
One year, my high school’s Homecoming theme was space-related. I don’t know who decided that sort of thing year to year, but compared to other themes throughout the four years, it wasn’t the worst. For the Friday we were supposed to dress according to theme, I joked that I was going to show up as Ziggy Stardust. I think the only thing that prevented me from doing it was my massive amount of blonde hair. Where was I supposed to stick all that and still have the red Ziggy hair? Instead, I ended up with a massive blonde and silver mountain of hair atop my head, anchored by an aluminum foil covered headdress-type thing that was at its base, a disguised Burger King crown. I’m not sure what exactly I was going for, but why not just go for it? Why not make use of that hair and embrace my inner weirdness for a day?

Most frequently asked question that day: “Is that all your hair?”
Yes, and yes I know it’s approaching a foot tall.

A few years later, I ended up having that Ziggy Stardust hair, albeit a bit by accident. I happened to have short hair around the time I decided to go from black hair to bright red. My hair’s tough, it could take it. However, paying for a haircut is usually the last way I use my money, and that short hair got a bit shaggy. As a result, I had this odd fading red hair that led my favorite 7 foot-in-heels drag queen I knew (or the only one I knew) to comment, “It’s a bit Ziggy Stardust and Annie Lennox combined.” I just had to make the best of it and own it until I bothered to get a haircut, but it wasn’t my best look.

I do like this song a lot, but mostly, it makes me think of my hair, and that I should probably get a haircut more than once a year. Or as of right now, eighteen months.

2. Zero – The Smashing Pumpkins
When I hear this song, I think of a guy who sat in the row next to me and up one seat in my 8th grade social studies class. He would wear his t-shirt from their 1997 Billings concert all the time, and I would either get this song or “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” stuck in my head — the shirt had the lyrics from one of those songs printed on the back, but I don’t remember which. The songs would play on a loop in my head, and I don’t know how much actual learning I did in that class.

She’s the one for me... She’s all I really need oh yeah... She’s the one for me...
Emptiness is loneliness and loneliness is cleanliness and cleanliness is godliness and God is empty just like me

“Zero” is one of the catchiest songs on the album — the guitar is perfect. Listen to it when refreshing your memory of the time when The Smashing Pumpkins played actual instruments, before Billy Corgan started looping everything with software. I end the list with the band that started it, giving me a unintended satisfying sense of order.

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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter X

1. X- Girlfriend — Bush
Well, what else was I going to put in the letter X? After counting to four in German, this song is less than a minute long and contains one line repeated over a punk riff: “You only call me when you’re down.” Whenever I see writing exercises that ask you to tell a story in one sentence, I think of this song. I’ve heard an alternate version that adds at the end, “You only call me cos I’m rich, You only call me cos you’re a....” and then the guitar riff winds down into one final drumbeat, filling in the obvious blank. My only complaint is that the song is a bit of a jarring close to the album, after the six and a half minute “Alien,” but maybe they felt they needed to go out on the note they arrived.

2. Xmas Cake — Rilo Kiley
Honestly, it’s not one of my favorite Rilo Kiley songs, but how many other songs can you think of that start with the Letter X? My need for evenness made me want a second song under the Letter X because the Letter Z will have two as well. The song is sort of the anti-Christmas song, where everything has gone wrong, everything is an obligation and “The cold war is on between you and me.” Jenny Lewis sings slow and with melancholy until one last thrash closes the whole thing. It’s a New Yorker short story contained within five and a half minutes.

Alphabet Soup: The Letter W

1. Wester — AFI
I know it shouldn’t matter — it shouldn’t even be more notable than hair color, ideally — but I want to know who plays for my team. For every working ‘gaydar’ and the rightful growing acceptance, I feel like those of us who fall under (what I like to call) the equal opportunity heading are just sitting in the open doorway of the closet. We’re lounging back on the door frame, ready to explain ourselves when asked, but reluctant to initiate the conversation. For every person who has had real feelings for both genders, there’s some girl who makes out with other girls only because her boyfriend thinks it’s hot. Like most news stories, it’s always the idiots that get the most attention.

Oh, and it’s not like the first half of the acronym helps much. Most of the time, I feel like the ‘B’ in ‘GLBT’ is tacked on as a courtesy because, “Come on, they’re just confused. They’ll be saying they’re gay in no time.” While I fully understand that they’re scouting for their team as well, and that some people really are trying to figure out what and who they want, I am not that person.

The misunderstandings about equal opportunity attraction could fill pages. I’m in danger of going too off-track. To summarize, it’s hard to be ‘out’ for fear of being lumped in with people whose experiences and attitudes have more to do with low self-esteem than actual preference. It’s hard to be ‘out’ when the some ends of the spectrum don’t fully believe there’s middle ground. Plus, when you’re already settled into a very happy relationship, dating possibilities cease to be an issue. Most of the time, it’s easier to not say anything unless someone brings it up.

Yes, I know it shouldn’t matter, but I would really like to claim Davey Havok for the Equal Opportunity Team. He indirectly mentions boyfriend Francis, but that’s about it. While I commend him for not making his personal life the focus, I want someone so lovely and talented in our corner. Go team! Right?

I’ll meet you tonight
In the whispers when no one’s around
Nothing can stop us now
Tonight, in the whispers where we won’t be found

“Wester” is right up there with “Silver and Cold” as far as my favorite AFI songs are concerned. Though I’d seen a few minutes of AFI’s set at the 2000 Warped Tour (still kicking myself for not paying more attention to that one), it wasn’t until Tyson mentioned Davey during a discussion about celebrity eye candy that they really registered. I have fond memories of blasting The Art of Drowning and Black Sails at Sunset while cleaning our Missoula apartment. From the very beginning, “Wester” stood out with its great punk drumming, call-and-answer chorus and lines like this:

I creep through the twilight to that hidden place
Beyond the lonely, I’ll meet you

I can feel you dreaming of me

Of all the love songs he’s written, it is the least complicated, the least doomed. He sings of the first thrilling moments when two people find each other, each private moment needing to be recreated as often as possible. When he’s not wrapped up in drama, his imagery captures adoration so well, even if it all occurs in the shadows.

The theme of private life extends throughout the album. One of my favorite lines out of any song I’ve ever heard occurs during “Of Greetings and Goodbyes” : Deep within divinity let’s start another secret show.

2. With Arms Outstretched — Rilo Kiley
Sometimes, I just have a hunch I’m going to like a certain artist. I had hunches about Ani DiFranco, Beth Orton, PJ Harvey and Rilo Kiley all based on reading an article about them, now all favorites. I don’t read music reviews as often as I used to — although an afternoon well spent is reading the massive reviews section in Q magazine— and I’m not interested in the Pitchfork-style of snobbery. Every once in awhile though, some portion of the artist’s description interests me, sparks the right feeling in the right part of my brain that makes me want to listen. A reviewer gushing isn’t a guarantee I will feel the same — for example, I only think Arcade Fire and Bright Eyes are fine enough, but I don’t own anything — and sometimes even a mediocre commentary will make me want to know more. I’m not sure what the common thread is. Like I said before, Rilo Kiley came to me by way of Entertainment Weekly, a short couple of paragraphs in a mediocre publication that I don’t usually read. Something about their description and the picture alongside made me know I would like them. Maybe that’s the link — good photography. The Rolling Stone Q&A I read with Ani DiFranco had a interesting enough photo that I hung it on my wall, I liked Beth Orton’s Trailer Park album cover, and all the photos surrounding PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City... period were beautiful. Maybe my hunches are just a thinly-veiled variety of judging a book by its cover, but I think it’s worked out well.

It’s sixteen miles to the promised land,
and I promise you, I’m doing the best I can
Now some days they last longer than others
but this day by the lake went too fast

“With Arms Outstretched” might be my favorite Rilo Kiley song, though on a different day, I may have to bestow the honor on “Teenage Love Song.” It does have the same collections of lines repeated through the whole thing, but I do love to sing along. Jenny Lewis pours her mix of uncertainty and confidence into songs that are like letters or late night conversations with everyone she’s known.

And if you want me
you better speak up
I won’t wait
So you better move fast

I think the appealing thing about her voice is that it is so direct. She doesn’t try to add any effects, and the songs are all about the simple lyrics. As though the band realizes how great the urge to sing along is, the last minute or so has a whole group of people joining her, complete with hand claps. Someone should really do a study about the innate appeal of hand claps. Is it the warm glow of group participation? Let me know what you think.

3. Why — Fleetwood Mac
Some of Christine McVie’s strongest work comes long before Stevie and Lindsey ever joined the band. I love her contributions to the bands albums between 1970 and 1973, and her very first solo album is one I wish I had on a form other than vinyl so I had more opportunity to listen to it. Her blues voice mixed with pop songs added something special to the band, all the way until the point she decided to leave after The Dance tour. Every time I put on Mystery to Me, I wonder why I don’t listen more often. Closing the album, Christine took her heartbreak and found one of her best songs.

There’s no use in crying, it’s all over
And I know there’ll always be another day
Well my heart will rise up with the morning sun
and the hurt I feel will simply melt away

“Why” is half-motivator, half-wallow, and she’s never anything but honest. In one moment, she picks herself up from her unhappiness, attempting to remind herself that no break-up is the end of the world, that she will get by. Her grasp always remains shaky however, because in the next moment she lets out:

You don’t have to give up
Why is it all wrong
Why don’t you love me
Why won’t you just be strong

Her music suggests that sometimes she has a hard time remembering that the way a person treats her is not indicative of her worth. Christine McVie is the woman who does not know how stunning she is, how smart and true her words can be. I think she may be the source of my fascination with blonde British women, from the moment I heard her interviewed in 1997. Something about the accent — and yes, I recognize there are several varieties — just gets me. A woman who might not otherwise catch my eye in the most shallow end of attraction can say just about anything with the right voice, and forget it. I’m mush.

4. We Float — PJ Harvey
My senior year of high school, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea spent most of its life in my car stereo. Every sound, every murmur and yell rippled through my brain like a constantly running program, essential for everyday functioning. I can almost smell the interior of my old and angry Volvo when I play it, that mix of aging upholstery and overpowering Yankee Candle sage citrus air freshener. I sang along in the heat when my air conditioner no longer worked, and I sang while plowing and spinning my way through the snowy streets. It reminds me of being alone in my thoughts, going to and from work.

We wanted to find love
We wanted success

For around two years, I worked as a‘confirm processor,’ a fancy way of saying envelope stuffer and mail clerk, and after a restructuring of what the work entailed, I no longer had co-workers who shared my position. For the first half of my shift, I waited for the day’s stock confirmations to arrive, and then I sorted them alongside the ordinary and unassuming computer guy who printed them for me. He wasn’t an IT guy, though we did used to share an office with that department. He wasn’t my boss, and I don’t know what his work entailed during the day, but for about two hours each afternoon, our jobs intersected. We got along fabulously, entertaining the sort of friendship that had to take two healthy steps back in order not to complicate itself. I don’t know how many years we had between us — couldn’t have been more than fifteen — but I was on the wrong side of eighteen for most of the time I worked there.

Until nothing was enough
Until my middle name was excess

I had no problem rambling on about my life (clearly), the mention of relationships included, and I also didn’t mind the unspoken flirting undercurrent. I guess the arrogant side of me appreciated the power in it all, the conversational dance. He found my madness entertaining and he was the right kind of humourous loner. I know from the outside it sounds inappropriate, but nothing truly overt was ever suggested. Everything stayed dialed-back, hung between the punctuation of everything else. I was a horrible girlfriend in high school. Just horrible, and though I knew it, I mostly ignored it. Somehow I managed to have the same boyfriend for two years, one who didn’t trust me and shouldn’t have, and we wandered through our uneven relationship where neither of us ever had both eyes on each other at the same time.

And somehow I lost touch
When you went out of sight

I can’t imagine being that person now, I find the idea deplorable. I haven’t been that person since the night I picked up Tyson from the airport nearly seven years ago, after we’d spent a month apart and realized that we were destined for no one but each other.

I’m still alone in my thoughts when I listen to this album. I don’t dissect the meaning behind the songs in the same way I do with other albums — Polly Jean creates a mood and leaves the rest up to the listener. Something about her delivery is very cathartic. The mind tends to sort itself through repeated listening, and the album has grown with me. I don’t attach it to my former self, however much my memory may wade back in for the purposes of telling a story. I may not be proud of it all, but every move along the way builds onto everything else. Every reaction to every moment is a result of what has come before.

But one day we’ll float
Take life as it comes

5. Whatever — Oasis
The year Amanda, Kristen, Amy and I decided to play as a quartet, judged as a part of the local strings festival, we entertained the idea of playing “Whatever.” Amanda and I could play part of the arrangement — bits and pieces not completely related to the viola or cello parts — but we had trouble finding sheet music. You can find just about anything online now, but in 1998, we couldn’t get an arrangement. Instead, we played a song suggested by our orchestra teacher, something much less fun.

I considered myself a pretty decent cello player, and I sat first chair, but every once in awhile some tricky piece of rhythm would get me. No matter how much I practiced, I could not be relied upon to get that one thing right every single time. In this particular song, an eighth rest tripped me up about eight tries out of ten. It was not for lack of practice — I tried, I really did. — but when I flubbed my entrance not once, but at least four times in front of the judges, I could have died right there. Being perceived as unreliable is one of the worst attributes that anyone could ever think of me, and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. “How hard can it be? Just get it already!” I imagined them thinking. Furthering my embarrassment, I ended up crying afterward, in front of my friends and my orchestra teacher. I kept thinking how “Whatever” didn’t have any fucking eighth rests.

Here in my mind, you know you might find
Something that you, you thought you once knew
But now it’s all gone
And you know it’s no fun

Even now when I hear “Whatever,” my right arm twitches bow movements along with the strings. It’s muscle memory, the parts I know. My fascination with use of strings in rock likely cemented itself from the very first moment I heard the song, another one of Amanda’s special ordered discs at the local Hastings. Maybe someone can point out other examples, but I can’t think of any other bands from the last twenty-five years that have released a non-album single in between huge album sales, much less one with such big production involved.

I’m free to say whatever I
Whatever I like, if it’s wrong or right
it’s all right

When I started this project, I knew I wanted to talk about all sorts of songs, to really figure out what about them made my heart and brain light up. When it comes to Oasis, I already knew how the songs inhabited every part of me for so long. I wanted to find a way to articulate how they had occupied my soul, to illuminate that by even just a fraction to anyone else who wondered why. Maybe I’ve succeeded a little, but this isn’t the only music project I’ll ever write, and Oasis is the barometer by which I judge everything else. It’s not always about the specific sound of music — I need to feel it.

I never pretend to be their biggest fan and of course I’m not the only who has been moved by their music, but I also know that they are sometimes dismissed by people who don’t see it my way. I can’t change anyone’s mind, but I also think that it becomes much harder to dismiss something when presented with someone so affected by it. If anything, maybe I want to seem a little less silly, a little less like the teenager so fervently grasping to one idea. I hang on because I recognize something so true in the music, a yearning that demands that we allow our moments of doubt, admit our weakness and make ourselves better. When Amanda made me sit and watch the Unplugged session with her twelve years ago, I didn’t know that the one person who has always been to the embodiment of self-assurance was about to let me in on the thing that occupies the biggest part of my heart, second only to my family. If life and this music have taught me anything, it’s that we cannot hold our thanks inside. We cannot let the opportunity to say what’s on our mind pass. I cannot thank her enough.

Honorable Mentions:
Walking in Memphis — Marc Cohn

Take Marc Cohn’s voice, cross it with Gordon Lightfoot’s, and you’ll have a rough idea of my dad’s singing voice. He could sing pretty well for a person who I don’t think harbored any ideas of performing. Also, a rather sizable chunk of his relatives hail from Memphis. As a result, I have a nostalgic connection to this song. I find the fact that Marc Cohn was shot in the head and lived to make more music to be the type of miracle I wish happened more often.

With or Without You— U2
To let this list pass without a single U2 song would be a crime. The Edge’s guitar is so distinctive, I believe it would only take one note to identify his playing among anyone else. I know that now it’s easy to make jokes about Bono (punchline: “God doesn’t think he’s Bono”), but his voice is one of the best soaring examples of longing. Also consider “All I Want is You” a belated Honorable Mention for the Letter A.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter V

1. Volcano — Damien Rice
“He’s good, but he’s sort of stab-you-in-the-heart good,” I said to Tyson when he asked how I enjoyed the album O. Niall had sent it from Ireland, as the album had yet to have wide distribution in the US. When Damien Rice began to get all the critical nods of ‘Best of 2004,’ I always found it a bit funny that the articles neglected to notice the album’s 2003 release date. His name took up space in my brain for long enough that it took awhile to not feel surprised when this song would pop up on the radio or the rare moments when a music channel would play videos.

What elevates Damien Rice’s music from pretty good folk music into something more extraordinary is Vyvienne Long’s cello and Lisa Hannigan’s backing vocals. He and Lisa have since parted ways, and I don’t know what that will mean for the music. As a trio, they grab my heart in that great way that makes me want to sit and write.

In fact, one of the major themes I often write about can be summed up by one line from the chorus: “What I am to you is not what you mean to me.”

I’m interested in the dynamics of relationships both friendly and romantic when two people give different importance to the other. I’m interested in the idling relationship, where it’s gone on too long to bother expiring, and I’m interested in how people need each other. I’m interested in one person’s total devotion paired with another’s obliviousness to that adoration. I think about the possibility of assumed obliviousness when really it’s a case of unspoken understanding. I find it interesting when people set aside all caution and jump headfirst into what they know to be right, however crazy it seems from the outside.

What I give to you
is just what I’m going through
This is nothing new
No, no just another phase of finding what I really need
is what makes me bleed

Damien Rice’s music has the ability to make me pick apart every complicated feeling, and somehow still enjoy doing it. His introspective songwriting style leads to self-reflection, a jumping off point for sorting out all the murky matters where the brain and heart argue. The music is both inspiring and difficult, and I’m not sure what the result of prolonged non-stop listening would be. Even when he sings, “You do not need me,” I still hear dedication, however bittersweet.

2. Violet — Hole
The first thing I think of when I hear this song is the episode of Beavis and Butthead who, upon seeing the video’s title on their TV, say “Yeah! Violence! I love it when they tell right at the beginning what you’re going to see.” That video, along with the aforementioned PJ Harvey in the Letter K, is one of the few I remember from that show. The third? “Dammit, Pantera! I thought I told you to take out the garbage!”

And the sky was made of amethyst
And all the stars are just like little fish
You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say no

Courtney Love may be crazier than a bag of monkeys, but as far as her music goes, I have no problem with her. She’s ballsy and independent, and that comes through in the songs. I like this version of Hole, the Celebrity Skin version, and I dug the one single I heard from her solo album. Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” was one of the first moments in middle school that made me think, “You know, the R&B stuff my friends are listening to is crap.” Despite liking the music, I’ve only managed a dubbed cassette of Live Through This. Kristen always liked them, but I borrowed the albums in the days before readily available CD burners and Napster. How I managed to be more familiar with Hole than Nirvana, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a little about staring at bassist Melissa Auf Der Mar, but it also has a lot do with the scream-along satisfaction of the chorus:

Go on, take everything!
Take everything, I want you to
Go on, take everything!
Take everything, I dare you to

One of the funniest moments I’ve seen on MTV — besides the time Courtney Love threw things at Madonna and then almost fell on her — was when they had her and Melissa do a segment on House of Style, then hosted by the unremarkable Daisy Fuentes. On a show known for supermodels and whatever Todd Oldham had going, the two of them got on there, demonstrated how to rip a few t-shirts into a dress and more or less said, “Traditional fashion is bullshit.” Courtney Love may not be a role model, but she has had moments of clarity to which more people should have paid attention.

3. Velvet Morning — The Verve
Would you believe I was between this song and Sneaker Pimps “Velvet Divorce?” Two different “Velvet” songs. I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about the Life Less Ordinary soundtrack one more time, and I had nothing much to say about the song apart from, “I enjoy it,” so I had to find something else. There’s a reason the Letter V is worth 4 points in Scrabble — it’s not as easy of a letter as you might think.

“Velvet Morning” sounds a little like something off Be Here Now, with a splash of “Champagne Supernova.” Some critics say Urban Hymns is the album Oasis wish they made instead that year, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses. “Velvet Morning” is a little psychedelic with a hundred different sounds overlapping each other and building into something bigger.

Yes, it’s been long
and yes, I still feel strong
Into the half light,
another velvet morning for me

That beginning could open a movie, one fresh beginning before diving into the story. Hearing this song is the closest I get to imagining what it must be like for people who see music in colors. The strings, the pedal steel, the vocals through a filter — all of it swirls into one package that begs to bleed over into other media.

And now I’m trying to tell you
about my life
And my tongue is twisted
And more dead than alive

Hearing those lines makes me think about the difference between writing to someone and talking to them. I’m a much more effective communicator when I can write it all down. My speaking style is either off the cuff or reserved, and I don’t know if I paint a very accurate picture of myself in conversation. I suppose everyone feels this way, and we all think we’re the only ones with the problem — thinking everyone else gets along just fine, and I’m just trying not to sound like the fragmented, inarticulate odd duck who has forgotten some of that handy arrogance along the way.

I said, Don’t you find
that it’s lonely
The corridor
You walk there alone
And life is a game you’ve tried

I don’t know the solution. I’m still trying to find that balance between “Of course I’m fantastic, and you should think so too,” and over-thinking, dialing back too far. I suppose we spend a lifetime learning how, and sometimes we get it right.

4. Volumen Theme — Volumen
Volumen were a band that hailed from Great Falls, settled in Missoula and became big on that local music front, promptly becoming all indignant that Great Falls only loved them after they moved away. Seeing as the lot who loved them were unaware and in middle school when they still lived in Great Falls, I always thought their accusations of bandwagonry were a bit ... self-important. If it hadn’t been for their great live show, I would’ve discounted them as just another area musician that spent too much time on the idea of a band rather than being one.

I saw them play two or three times, once at Jay’s Upstairs in Missoula (now closed), and maybe twice in Great Falls. I want to say they were on a bill that I did not catch the entirety of one night at Center Stage, but I’m not sure. The show I remember most will always be the Halloween Show 2001 held at, of all places, the Elks Club. I drove back to Great Falls to see Old Boyfriend perform as the opener (and he’d also organized the whole show), even though we were half broken up by then. Hearing Volumen may have subconsciously nudged in me towards the decision of bothering. The band arrived in their vintage ambulance they’d been using as a tour bus, all wearing retro medical uniforms — white coats, white nurses uniforms with the little hats, red crosses. They were a fully functioning unit in performance gear.

I was standing out near the door when a girl from Missoula I’d just met in creative writing class arrived. She said, “What are you doing here?”

I said, “I live here!” Never mind the fact that I no longer did, but I suppose it’s telling that I said that and not “to see my boyfriend play.” Anyway, she was a friend of the Volumen and I think she danced more than anyone that night.

Volumen’s style hovers somewhere around dance rock with a touch of nerdiness. They have drum machines, loud guitars, and songs about video games and my favorite, “Miniature Action Jesus.” They’re fun — way more fun in a live setting. I have the Super Confident Guy EP (with bonus How Do You Spell... ? album tacked on the end because the original run went out of print) and while all the good songs are on there, it lacks the energy of the gig. The chorus of the Volumen Theme loses some of its oomph when a crowd isn’t there to shout along, “Volumen! Woo!”

“How Do You Spell?” has a great sing-along silly chorus: “How do you spell Volumen?/ I said La-La-La-La-La-La-La Volumen..”

With it being Halloween, a prize went to the best costume. The band thought, and I thought, they had it in the bag with all that coordinated head-to-toe ambulance theme, but no... They gave it to a short kid who stuffed himself full of padding, put on suspenders, and became an almost circular fat man. I think Great Falls had trouble booking the band after that.

5. Virtual Insanity — Jamiroquai
I can hear you all groaning already, I know. I got sick of this song too after the initial love affair, but enough time passed to where I heard the song on the radio one day and thought, “I should dig that album out.” If nothing else, it’s good for dancing around while picking up the house or cooking a proper breakfast.

The last time I remember the MTV Video Music Awards being anything good was in 1996. Bush, Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morissette, and Jamiroquai all performed. Gavin wore the shirt with the very tiny ‘Fuck you’ printed on it, Liam spit on the stage, Alanis needed to wash her hair, Jamiroquai broke out the moving floor again — MTV may as well have rounded up my CD collection and made a show of it because there was hardly a bad moment for thirteen year old me. At the risk of my bulletin board friend Marg throwing rocks at me, I’ll say that I even enjoyed The Cranberries performance that night as well.

The next year, the Spice Girls invaded the place. While I don’t mind them much, they hovered the line between the MTV I grew up with — the mix of full length videos, music news and the occasional topical documentary — and the ten year spiral into the crap we see today. 1996 was the last year that I didn’t mind them rerunning the broadcast almost nonstop for a week.

To be honest, I never listen to Jamiroquai’s album Traveling Without Moving all the way through. Three songs stand out the most to me — “Virtual Insanity,” “Alright,” and “Cosmic Girl.” I may have been the only person using the song “Cosmic Girl” in a high school Humanities class project, five years after its release. I rarely play the album, but radio play stays just sporadic enough that “Virtual Insanity” feels like a happy surprise. A musician could be known for worse.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter U

1. United States of Whatever — Sifl & Olly
You gotta hear this song. Really. Trot off to YouTube right now. I’m just not sure I can do the song justice without you having heard it. The song’s only two minutes long. Go on. I’ll wait.

Waiting now.

Are you back? Are you laughing? Are you all “Yeeahhh... Whatever” ?

Then I’m throwin’ dice in the alley
Officer Leroy comes up and he’s like,
“Hey I thought I told you....”
And I’m like, “Yeah, whatever!

For a brief time, MTV devoted airtime to sock puppets who spent their half hour talking and singing about everything from ninjas to pandas to being “crescent fresh.” Kristen and I got endless enjoyment from it, referencing it years after the show was canceled. I can’t see the word tangerine without mentally singing Chester’s part in their song “Tangerine.”

Tangerine! Got some cereal in my pocket
Tangerine! I can’t wait to make you nauseous

It’s just so ridiculous that it’s awesome. One of the creators tried releasing “United States of Whatever” under his own name a few years after Sifl and Olly. I saw the video once on TRL, but it wasn’t the same. I’m not sure the TRL audience quite got it, and besides, it’s much funnier coming from sock puppets. Go spend some more time tracking down the show on YouTube (after reading the rest of this letter, of course). Hilarity ensues.

2. Unsent — Alanis Morissette
“If I ever end up with another person named John, you have permission to shoot me,” I said to my friend Amy. We were fifteen and eating in the cafeteria. Whatever we had been discussing had brought me to the sudden realization that guys with that name and I were never meant to be. I hesitate to use specific names with specific situations — tossing a bone of privacy their way, whether they deserve it or not — but take my word for it. In fact, the whole letter J seemed doomed. The next year, ignoring the memory of that lunch and all that led to it, I fell face first into adoration with someone who had Amy giving me a deserved look. “Remember, you said I could shoot you,” she said.

Dear Jonathan, I liked you too much.
I used to be attracted to boys who would lie to me
and think solely about themselves

Doom. So, so much doom. Total nuclear sabotage amounts of doom resulted. Thankfully, Amy did not act on my words, and I lived to learn very important lessons about being fair to other people. We all lied and we all were selfish in our own ways. What could center around a name has never left me since.

“Unsent” takes a look at past relationships, a letter to each person that has the benefit of perspective. Alanis sings about what she learned from each of them, getting it all out in a positive and straightforward tone. They had faults, she had faults, but each relationship had value in its own way. I don’t know if she assigns the real names to the different men she mentions, but the specificity makes me think about my past and what I would say. By coincidence, she and I have more than one name that overlap, and one section of lines could be pulled straight from my brain:

We learned so much
I realize we won’t be able to talk for some time
and I understand that as I do you
The long distance thing was the hardest and we did as well as we could
We were together during a very tumultuous time in our lives

Much like putting a personal song on an album anyone can buy, consider this my not-so-unsent apology. I could have been better, and I should have let go long before we did.

3. Underneath the Sky — Oasis
When I was a kid, I started out thinking I would be an artist, the painting variety, complete with easel and beret. Then I discovered I wasn’t particularly good at it. Then I thought, Dance! That is, up until the point I realized dancers are mainly background players and I wouldn’t have any of that. Fashion design held my interest from the age of 8 until 12, which is when I hit middle school art and sewing classes. I discovered that not only was my drawing no good, but I couldn’t sew either. In fact, sewing machines had a tendency to need exorcisms as soon as I touched them. In retaliation, they seemed to transfer some sort of plague onto me because I managed to be out sick for at least three days, right about the time I really started to struggle with my assigned project. Fashion design just wasn’t meant to be, and now I’m lucky if I buy more than one new shirt in a year. I’m wearing a t-shirt I’ve had since the age of sixteen right now, and the shirt is almost older than I am.

However, through every doomed career aspiration, I wrote stories. At three years old, I found it frustrating that my hands were not coordinated enough to write down my ideas. Even once I learned how to use a pencil, it seemed like too much trouble, so I taught myself to type using a primitive version of those vTech toys kids use today. When I could, I’d have my dad drag out one of the old typewriters, preferably the one with the correction feature. I’d work away at stories about the dogs, my Barbies, or even the occasional outer space trip. The days in school that the teacher would assign a big writing project, some kids would groan, and I’d think, “Thank God we’re not doing math.” Why writing never seemed like a career option until 13, I don’t know. I suppose at that age, my family finally owned a computer, and it became that much easier to work. Of anything that has ever held my interest, writing has always felt the most natural. I’m forever working on my skills, and I feel like a hack most of the time, but it’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do since I realized I could be good at it.

Of all the professions I entertained, besides their creativity, they shared a theme of self-sufficiency. No one had to teach me unless I wanted it. Yes, schooling adds to the learning experience, but beyond learning the basics, school was a supplement, not the key. No one could take away my imagination, tutting, “Nuh-uh-uh! Not until you get that degree!” Creativity, for all its free forms, offers an amazing amount of control. I can be collaborative or disappear — there are no program requirements. I read what I want, learn what I want, and listen to what I think is necessary.

Underneath the sky of red
is a storyteller sleeping alone
He has no face and he has no name
and his whereabouts are sort of unknown

“Underneath the Sky” found its way to me around the same time I started writing with the rest of my life in mind. It ended Side A of a B-side mixtape, until it cut off before the last line of the chorus, and I’d have to flip over to the next side to hear the whole thing. “All he needs is his life in a suitcase/It belongs to a friend of a friend” caught my attention as a great jumping-off point for storytelling, and though I’ve never used it as a prompt, it would get me thinking. For me, the song encapsulates that headlong jump into the unknown, looking to see what happens next. I hear an adventurous spirit that I need to remind myself to maintain.

So wish me away to an unknown place
Am I living in a land with no name
I’ll be making a start with a brand new heart
Stop me making sense once again

I’ve always wished I could write songs. I’m crap at poetry. Well, maybe I’ve been able to eke out a decent handful of lines, but the construction of a full song around them would baffle me. I may know good music when I hear it, but I am often amazed that someone had the imagination to get it so right. How does one know to coordinate so many elements into one perfect offering? How do that many minds in the room work it out? Maybe that’s why I tend to write about musicians — I want to solve the mystery. I want to know where we overlap.

4. Under Pressure — Queen and David Bowie
Vanilla Ice ruined this song for a long, long time, especially for those of us who are young enough to have heard his song first. It’s absolutely laughable that he thought his version was different enough that he shouldn’t have had to pay royalties. The first time I heard “Under Pressure” was when Amy and I watched Grosse Point Blank in high school, and it took me a little while to warm up to the song and separate it from the awful early 90s rip-off. She had the soundtrack, and she’d play it in her car a lot on our way to the movie theater.

Amy and I spent a lot of time watching movies, both at the theater and rentals at our houses. One night, we managed to make it through seven movies— Grosse Point Blank, Conspiracy Theory, The Frighteners, Rocky Horror Picture Show (a non-holiday viewing), The Labyrinth (knowing my love for David Bowie, I was mocked endlessly for his pants in that movie), Ransom (I think...), something else I can’t recall (there’s a fair chance it had Julia Roberts in it), and I fell asleep during The Fifth Element. We drank all the Dr Pepper in the house and made a pyramid out of the cans atop the pool table, naturally. We binged on movies. I’m not sure I can think of a time where we sat down and watched only one during high school, if it was just the two of us. Groups of people would start talking about other things at the halfway mark of the first movie and they would tire of watching by the end. We weren’t serious connoisseurs and we’d do our share of talking during a rental movie (never in a theater), but movies were always our main activity. We each had actors and actresses we liked, and they weren’t always the same, but as long as I didn’t try to make her watch Monty Python, we’d watch anything. Amy was the one who pointed me in the direction of Eddie Izzard, and we got all sorts of entertainment from dropping a movie with drag queens on the unsuspecting uptight friend. I can’t imagine the ground we might have covered if Netflix had been around then. Even now when we manage to spend some time together, we usually watch a movie (Kiera Knightly seems to be a running theme), then eat something greasy at a diner and talk about whatever we’re watching on TV. I wish we could do it more often.

“Under Pressure” doesn’t always spring to mind when I think of songs I enjoy, but whenever I hear it, I’m reminded how good it is. When Studio 60 premiered a couple of years ago, they used the song to close the pilot. It fit so well with the mood of the episode and I liked hearing it so much that I purchased Classic Queen not long later. The back and forth cry of “Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance” and “This is our last dance” about three-quarters through is fantastic.

My daughter giggles when she hears that this song has both Queen and David Bowie because she’s been a fan of both even before she was born. Any time I had the Greatest Hits album on while pregnant, she would go crazy with the kicking. Barely over a year old, I remember her dancing to Bowie’s “London Bye Ta Ta.” She introduced herself to Kristen by dancing to “We Will Rock You.” Something within her has always loved both, and technically, both Queen CDs in the house are hers. However, if you ask her what her favorite song is, she’ll say “Lyla.” I bet you can guess what band does that one. Yes, I’m quite proud.

5. Under the Skin — Lindsey Buckingham
My favorite male musicians become more attractive as they age. I know it’s a cruel act of nature that men can become distinguished and women, save for Helen Mirren, become just... old. Asked to choose between the early-20s or post-40s version of those men, I’ll choose the latter. I like a little grey hair, a few creases around the eyes. David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Gavin Rossdale, and hell, even Noel Gallagher all look just as good, if not better than they did the day the first album dropped. And now they have back catalogue! They have perspective, practice, and they know how to put on a show. Sobering up doesn’t hurt either.

I didn’t realize how much I liked Lindsey Buckingham until I saw Fleetwood Mac live in 2004. When the band decided to tour again, I resigned myself to the idea that like every other reunion tour, seats would cost as much as a car. Then I saw that they were headed to Spokane. Well, if I didn’t have to travel, why not take a look at ticket prices? To my surprise, the nosebleeds weren’t ridiculous. At $65 each (before fees), the seats were more than I’d ever paid for any other concert. However, for a favorite band I thought I’d never see, Tyson and I would go. My parents came to watch newborn Grace, and we had a night out. For being at one of the very top rows of the arena, we had a good straight-on view of the stage. The large video screens helped.

The first thing I thought when they started to play — aside from missing Christine already — was how great Lindsey Buckingham looked, even at 54. I’ve touched on this before in the Letter N, but the man turns 60 next year and you’d hardly guess it. We should all hope to age like him. Now, if he were just a regular guy I happened to glance at, I don’t think he would catch my attention in the same way. Talent makes other people more attractive — It’s why women say, “I want a guy who is funny.”

A bit of madness lurks behind Lindsey Buckingham’s music, and it’s especially true of his solo work. Given an entire album to fill, he gets to try out sounds that don’t quite align with the more straightforward Fleetwood Mac tone. On “Under the Skin,” his voice almost comes out in a whisper, then loops back on top of itself, creating a sound akin to fog — “I know it’s hard being so hard to find/ Your passion swallows you whole.” The entire album requires some acclimating, but hearing what happens when he’s allowed to stretch is fascinating.

When the shadows fall on the one-way wall
and you feel so small
Where do you belong

Self-examination is sexy as long as it isn’t self-absorption in disguise. The ability to learn from the past and recognizing the people who have shaped the path makes for a better person, and an interesting and more attractive person to me.