Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter Q

At first, the only songs that popped into my head for this letter were bad ones like “Que Sera Sera” or “Quit Playing Games With My Heart.”

Poking around a bit more, the only song I seemed to have starting with Q was “Quicksand” by Nigel Pulsford, the guitarist from Bush. The song’s not really that good — he can’t really sing, and the guitar’s not even that good for a guy who normally does pretty well. This is what happens when lead singers refuse to sing other band members songs — they feel the need to go out and make crappy solo albums.

If I wanted to cheat a little, I could always use “A Quick Peep” by Oasis, which is an instrumental that’s a good little British blues piece with hand claps. It’s only 1:17 long, but it’s way better than “Swamp Song” or even “Fuckin’ in the Bushes,” their other instrumentals. I’d sort of forgotten about it because I don’t put Heathen Chemistry on as often as some of the others.

Remind me or enlighten me with anything good that could go here instead.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter P

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re going to reap just what you sow.

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter O

1. Overlap — Ani DiFranco
“I know there is strength in the differences between us, and I know there is comfort where we overlap.” I love this fantastic and quiet song about longing. Ani sings about the flirting dance two people do when at least one loves the other, yet neither can make a move. She feels as though she is reaching out more than the other person, and she sighs, “If you won’t give it to me, at least give me a better view.”

Come here
stand in front of the light
stand still
so I can see your silhouette
I hope
that you have got all night
cos I’m not done looking yet

That handful of lines rank up there in my mental library of all-time most beautiful choruses. I can feel that sense of needing, at the very least, to breathe in that other person, even if that’s all it will ever be. In that deep, gauzy part of my heart, I’ve felt this way, where the thoughts trickle out in a roundabout way until sometimes I had no other choice than to be direct, just to remove the unbearable weight of wondering from my chest. Over time, I kept that tally of all those little hints that made me believe that putting myself out there wouldn’t result in catastrophe, even if I expected nothing more than a response of “Of course I knew.” I’d think, of course, you had to have known how I’d watch you cross a room, how I would hang on every word. Sometimes, it works out in the end. I have had the good fortune of one of those times working out for the long run.

Sometimes it’s more complicated. Sometimes “you don’t feel the same,” and I’ve had no choice but to keep it to myself, maybe even halfway from myself. It’s the sort of feeling where your heart believes it is the only heart that has ever had to wall off a little part of itself, leaving just a tiny bit of light for the occasional look. My head knows that no experience is ever completely unique, and so I have no choice but to write about my thoughts in a roundabout way, to put it onto other people.

I build each one of my songs out of glass
so you can see me inside them, I suppose

Don’t mistake this for unhappiness. Consider it all one big mental tangle that I’ve reshuffled into something tangible, where it will continue to unravel and make peace with itself one word at a time. When this project is done mid-June, I’ve got a book to edit with the end goal of having it ready for other eyes to critique by the end of November, followed by a final polish. I’m filled with excitement and apprehension at the thought of getting it done — done for real. I’m going to get it right, and I have to get it right soon or it will just become one more unbearable weight. There I’ll be, all unsure of my skills, wondering what it all says about me, worrying yet again about one more misinterpretation. I’ll be wondering if I’m the only one who will ever get anything out of it, if it was all for naught.

“Overlap” fills me with all of these thoughts, where there is so much to say and yet only so much I want to come out in direct conversation. I love this song for getting a version of those thoughts so right. What happens to people when they don’t have another outlet for it all?

2. On Your Own — The Verve
More than once, I had a conversation where the other person thought I used the word ‘love’ too lightly. They thought of love only in the traditional, mutual lifelong commitment way. My argument was that it didn’t always happen that way, or rather, that it wasn’t only going to happen that way. That self-imposed, narrow definition left them bristling at the word, when my point was that there’s ‘love,’ there’s ‘in love,’ and then the whole range of feelings in between.

Tell me what you’ve seen,
Was it a dream?
Was I in it?

You can love a person for their greatness, a love from admiration. You can love a person but not want to be in the same room as them. You can love a person for the way they love you. You can love a person but not want to sleep with them. There’s the sort of love felt for a person that is as superficial as love for chocolate. There’s family love, friendly love and yes, that big and infatuated type of love. In this song, Richard Ashcroft sings,“All I want is someone who can fill the hole in this life I know.”

His point is that “in between life and death,” we all want someone to bear witness to our lives, to share in the whole process of trying to figure it all out. If that’s not love, the willingness to do that with another person, then I don’t know what is.

Tell me if it’s true
That I need you
You are changing

Hope mixes with disappointment, longing for possibility. The big loves don’t always remain permanent, and the hole left in their absence might not be filled in the same way again. The love in this song lies in the love of companionship, thinking that maybe if the other person doesn’t quite fit, they might eventually. If the person who used to fit that space in the heart changed and moved on, then there’s the hope that maybe the reverse can be true. I think that it usually doesn’t work out that way, but I guess by not trying, one would never know.

3. Oh My Sweet Carolina — Ryan Adams
In Missoula, Montana, on one of the odd triangular corners, sits a shop called Rockin’ Rudy’s. For a long time it was a great music shop with a side of interesting gifts. Now, the ratio of music to gifts is in favor of all those specialty soaps, t-shirts and toys, with most of the music crammed into the corner that used to house the jewelry. While the selection is still pretty good, especially for most music shops in Montana, I used to feel like I could find anything there — Bush and Oasis bootlegs, rare singles back when bands still released CD singles, that European import of a band without good US distribution, all of it. My dad, who was the type to have a subscriptions to unknown magazines about unknown folk musicians, could spend hours at the listening stations. Meanwhile, I’d have my thirty or so dollars I’d scrounged up, and I’d wander the rows of music. Scanning the names marked on white plastic dividers, I’d try to figure out the best use of my money and try to recall all those names I had trouble finding at home. My mom and brother would look around for a little while, but then get bored and sit outside while my dad and I continued our shopping. On one of those trips, I had listened to Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac on the way over, and I looked to see if they had any other albums. They did, but also written below their name on that divider: “See also Ryan Adams.” So I did.

Trying to find me something,
but I wasn’t sure just what
Funny how they say that some things never change

One of the best parts of a trip to Missoula was the moment where we’d be just climbing onto the interstate, winding around the hills on our way back home, headphones filling my ears with new music. If those hills on the approach filled me with anticipation for what might come, then the trip home was a revelation. On these drives, I heard my first Oasis b-sides, little bonuses adding to what I already loved. Hearing Ryan Adams’ first solo album felt like stumbling upon an even more personal version of what I already loved about Whiskeytown. Both felt like musical secrets, and they continued to feel that way until late 2001 when Ryan’s “New York” changed everything.

Up in here in the city,
feels like things are closing in
sunset’s just my light bulb burning out

Being from Montana, we get so used to being passed over or ignored that we start to feel like our own little secret. Missoula, a pocket of liberalism, is the opposite of conservative Billings, with places like Great Falls and Bozeman falling somewhere in the middle. Bad weather doesn’t phase us. Driving long distances, meaning more than 3 hours (yes, trips are measured in hours), to get what we want is no big deal. Yet, with no money to offer anyone and with opportunity forgetting that the fourth biggest state exists, people find themselves looking elsewhere. We start feeling the need to get out, to go somewhere where we don’t have to work so hard for entertainment and there’s the chance to earn more than six dollars an hour.

I live in Washington state now, and while I like it fine, I still find myself thinking about Missoula and how unfortunate it is that we can’t really afford to live there. It seemed easier to find someone up for conversation, easier to make friends. Also, I miss being closer to my mom. I know that absence distorts memory, but it’s always been the type of city for me. I know we did ok by moving, but every time we pass through Missoula, I think, “We used to be home by now.” While I also like the idea of living somewhere bigger, I still feel like two years in Missoula wasn’t enough. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’m “from” Washington.

4. Only the Lonely — Roy Orbison
My brother and I used to make gagging noises from the back seat of the car when my mom put on Roy Orbison. Like Little Women and other “classics” she would try to hand me, I rejected the songs in over-dramatic way because everyone knows that the second you hit late elementary school, your parents cease to be cool. (Yes, I fear for my future, the mother of two children says.) I even sang a parody called “Ugly Woman” with insightful lines like, “Ugly woman, don’t make me barf... Stay away from meeee!”

Of course, now I like Roy Orbison, but I still haven’t read Little Women. Sorry, mom.

How could I not like Roy Orbison for all my fondness for ‘big’ music? He had one of the biggest voices ever, and the few times I’ve heard some poor soul try and cover “Only the Lonely,” or one of his other songs, they inevitably come up short. Of course, that doesn’t keep untalented me from singing along, mangling the words and pretending I’m in tune. Isn’t there a rumor that even Elvis felt inadequate next to Roy Orbison’s voice?

Here’s the thing about liking Roy Orbison now after early years of protest — I still have yet to own anything by him. I don’t know why. I guess there are always other people who come to mind first, and maybe I’m too embarrassed to ask my mom where her Greatest Hits CD is. That’s really all I’m after, the greatest hits. I’ll still watch whenever I catch that black and white special plays on PBS, though some of that has to do with watching Bruce Springsteen. Even though I don’t have the song at my immediate disposal, it was still one of the first songs that popped in my head when I picked my favorites for the Letter O.

5. Outside — George Michael
When George Michael officially came out in the late 90s, I was surprised only in that I thought he had already, a thought I’m sure was far from unique. Maybe my age and location had something to do with it, but I had not paid much attention to him up until that point. Of course, I knew a lot of his songs — you were clearly living under a rock if you hadn’t heard “Freedom” or “Faith” — and Marlena liked him, but I didn’t give any thought to whether or not I liked the songs. Then “Outside” came out along with its singer, and who am I to resist a roller-disco/dance hall style song with a funny video? George Michael may not be the brightest for continuing to be caught doing ‘inappropriate’ things in public, but he certainly is resourceful enough to turn that late 90s incident into a hit song. Not only that, booking him for interviews to talk about/apologize for it gave him all the opportunity to promote his Greatest Hits double CD.

I have a funny picture of Kristen nuzzling that album at our friend Heather’s house. We listened to it a ton that year. Kristen and I still love a good disco-style dance beat, and it gives us a chance to ‘sing’ the instrumental portions. The line that made us all break out in song: “Service the community... but I already have, you see!” I find it almost impossible not to dance to this song. I may be dancing while typing right now.

I think George Michael is one of those artists that people have a hard time admitting that they like now, especially if it’s some of the Wham! stuff. He was considered cool in the 80s and then somewhere along the way, he faded from that huge popularity. When Limp Bizkit covered “Faith,” I think it made a lot a people feel okay in admitting they liked the song, but isn’t it horrible that it takes crap like Limp Bizkit to get some people to admit they like a pop song? That they may actually want to dance? George has a more limited career in the US now, but thankfully it’s him still around making music and not LB. The world is far, far better for it. Don’t be surprised if his latest collection of hits makes it into my music collection.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter N

1. Never is a Promise — Fiona Apple
After seeing the video for “Never is a Promise,” I remember being aware of how the release of a video can affect how I hear a song. I don’t remember what sort of images ran through my head before the song came out as a single, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the video, but I do remember how it spun in circles. Maybe there was a stop motion effect. I may not be affected by the video anymore, but I do know that it was this specific video that made me consider the impact it could have on the listening experience. In fact, I remember feeling disappointed that the song had a video, but it ended up not getting much play.

With her last name getting my attention, I first noticed Fiona Apple when she performed “Shadowboxer” on Saturday Night Live. Her voice sounded unlike anyone else’s out there, and honestly, it took me until about halfway through the song to figure out whether or not I liked it. I bought the CD at Wal-mart, of all places, shortly before they began editing everything in sight.

She used oddball words like “undulate” that somehow seemed to fit just right with the music, music rendered in a clear and ardent way. The songs were crafted with a real care for music, and I liked that. I know it’s a complaint as old as music itself, but there’s something to be said for musicians who aren’t puzzled by words like “time signature” or “eighth note.”

Tidal is an album that easily lends itself to personal connection, especially to a teenager looking for meaning in her life. “I don’t know what to believe in/ You don’t know who I am.” If memory serves, Fiona Apple was only nineteen when this album came out, meaning that these songs were written at an age not too far off from my age first listening to it. I know she had a complicated childhood that would make many people grow up fast, but I found it refreshing to have a young person singing about something beyond the superficial. No one prepackaged her the way other singers under the age of twenty can be.

I found comfort in her uncertainty and how she could revere others instead of tearing them down — “I’ll never glow the way that you glow.” She struggled — and continues to, really — with others misinterpreting her character, and how “your presence dominates the judgements made on you.”

For all my show of being independent and not caring about what others think, nothing quite gets me like the idea that someone might think poorly of me over something that isn’t true. Be it a rumor, a misinterpretation of my words or some other unsubstantiated impression, those are the thoughts that really shake me. Judge me for the mistakes I’ve actually made — I’ll probably be the first to admit them. I find it hard, however, to not let some incorrect thoughts out there bother me. I suppose it’s an exercise in letting go of control. I have to remember that if it does not really affect my life, then overall, it does not really matter.

My feelings swell and stretch; I see from greater heights
I realize what I am now too smart to mention — to you
You’ll say you understand, you’ll never understand

More than anything, I love this song because I know that I keep some things guarded and sometimes music is the only way to get it out. I always say that I’m an open book when asked, but some subjects are more difficult than others. Even as I’ve been writing this project, I’ve been very conscious in how I let out my thoughts. That’s not to say that I’m misrepresenting myself — No, this is probably the most personal writing I’ve done for public show, so far — but one can only be so vulnerable. I’ve left out scraps, and analysis is up to the reader. I have to trust that I’m clear. I have to trust that it’s enough.

2. Never Going Back Again — Fleetwood Mac
Lindsey Buckingham has modified his delivery of this song, and I suppose he really would have to mess with the arrangement after singing songs from one of the all-time best selling albums for over thirty years. Again, his finger-picking skills on the guitar make a person wonder how it comes out of just one instrument, and the harmony with Stevie Nicks is spot on, as usual. The original is great, but the drawn out lines of the updated version make it all shine that much more. Whereas the original sounds like a quiet resolve to stop seeing the person you just can’t shake, the later performance seems amused, knowing that no matter how many times he may say ‘no more,’ this person is always going to be involved in his life.

You don’t know what it means to win
So come down to see me again
I been down one time, I been down two time
I’m never going back again

Lindsey’s done two tours and a Presidential inauguration since “quitting” the band in the late 80s. The song may have started being about Stevie, but save for Christine McVie (unfortunately, her songs are missed), the whole lot of them can’t ever really stop making music together in some way. They’re all getting up there in age, but Lindsey seems to have weathered the least. He still has his voice, his hair, and a way of inviting attraction that doesn’t seem like an old man trying to relive his late-twenties. The piles of cocaine the band did in the 70s hardly seems to have affected him, whereas Stevie comes armed with a team of hair, make-up and wardrobe and still looks her age. I suppose he comes from good genes. His brother was an Olympic swimmer and he also swam before going into music. Maybe he really did have to scrape himself together in the 90s, but he had the good sense not to let everyone else see it.

3. No Rain — Blind Melon
When Kurt Cobain died, I remember noticing how sad other people were, but not feeling too sad myself. I was too young and my parents too old to “get” Nirvana while they still existed. I didn’t have a knowing older sibling. My dad sort of shrugged it off as “Yeah, well, he shot himself in the head and that’s that” attitude. Not investing much in the death of people you don’t know probably comes easier to a police officer. I remember thinking he might have been a little dismissive, but then, it did not affect me either. I was tired of hearing Nirvana’s Unplugged session on the radio 24/7, even though I like it now.

However, I felt sad after hearing about the death of Blind Melon’s singer, Shannon Hoon. I don’t know why; I only knew the one song. The deaths happened near each other, Hoon’s from a drug overdose. Both left daughters behind. Blind Melon, of course, did not have the same impact as Nirvana, and maybe the fact that they didn’t have a chance to be known for more than “No Rain” (and the bee girl) is what feels so sad.

Years later, I rediscovered Blind Melon through Old Boyfriend. When he was a kid, his uncle died suddenly, and he was able to find comfort by sorting through the man’s CD collection. Blind Melon’s self-titled album, bee girl on the cover (not the same girl as was in the video, mind you), sat among the albums. He loved it and found that the band had two other albums released with tracks collected before Hoon’s death — Nico, named for his daughter, and Soup. Nico is the album I have now, and it has a stripped-down version of “No Rain.” Both versions are good. The lyrics are maybe more clear on the “ripped away” version, but it does lack my favorite line from the original: “You know I like to keep my cheeks dry today, so stay with me and we’ll have it made.” The grip on sanity isn’t so firm in the second version.

This project has made it clear to me that once I’m done with the alphabet, I have some under appreciated gems I’d like to tackle. Blind Melon has to be among them. Nico is full of great songs like “All That I Need,” “Soup” and a cover of John Lennon’s “John Sinclair.” It’s a shame that they never received more attention because there’s real energy and talent behind the songs.

4. New York — Richard Ashcroft
Richard Ashcroft’s first solo album Alone With Everybody was a gift for my eighteenth birthday, but it took until a couple of years ago to fully marinate in my brain. I don’t know how it stayed under the surface because I love the album now, along with his other efforts I’ve purchased since. Start an album with a swell of strings and all the happy parts in my brain light up. “New York” doesn’t have strings, but it does have a pedal steel and a big sound after a lead-in that’s reminiscent of the Verve’s “The Rolling People.”

There’s no time to unpack here
Let’s get straight on the street

If the country is divided by the sort of people who feel at home in Los Angeles and the people who are at ease in New York City, then I fall in the latter camp. Granted, I was ten years old when I visited New York, but I went to Los Angeles in high school, and I know I’m not that person. “It’s a state of mind.” I like having different seasons, I don’t like driving and I don’t tan.

And I wanted to go, half my life
and I feel kind of strange, like I’ve never lived that life
and I’m trying hard to control my heart
and I always want to know
and I always want to go

Tyson always entertains the idea of shooting fashion in New York. He enjoys the little bit of work he’s done with fashion here, and I think everyone creative wonders at some point what it would be like to live in the city. I’ve always wanted to go back as an adult, to really spend awhile there and see more than I did. (I can say I’ve been on the viewing deck of the World Trade Center, a thought that’s now a little unsettling.) Of course, we’re not seriously thinking about going there for more than a vacation— “Need some money and some time” — but you never know where life will take you and when.

5. Night in my Veins — Pretenders
I had a crush on Chrissie Hynde before I ever fully realized that was an option. It began with “Brass in Pocket” and “I’ll Stand By You” as the first songs I noticed, and even as I saw the band live at sixteen, I could really only admit as far as “She’s just really, really... really awesome.” These sort of things take awhile to be worked out, I guess. If there’s one quality I like that seems to pop up more often than not in women (and men, too), it’s the ability to kick ass when necessary. I find it really off-putting when a person can’t stand up for themselves — and I don’t just mean in a physical way, though there’s something to be said for that. Chrissie Hynde wouldn’t let anyone mow over her. She’s steadfast in attitude, and it would take a special sort of person to be able to be with her. (In particular, a vegan who also doesn’t own leather, which is sort of funny for a women who sings a song called “Biker.”)

Warren Ellis once noted that writers often have expressions or images they tend to use repeatedly — his example had to do with Aaron Sorkin using the phrase “I hate your bleeding guts” in more than one TV script— and this song has a few of my personal favorites: “He cups his hands and he lights his cigarette/ I find myself in the bones of his face.” Even the title gets me because veins are the perfect metaphor for addiction (when not talking about actual addiction that involves veins, of course). They are the vehicle for feeling compelled do something and feeling it on all levels, no matter the circumstance:

He’s got his chest on my back ‘cross a new Cadillac
It feels good, even if it’s just the night in my veins

I love a good song about lust, and when the delivery comes from someone I like anyway, using words I might use, then I’m hooked. It’s her version of “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” The guitar’s a little early-90s cheesy, but the drums have the exact persistent beat the song needs. “I’ll Stand By You” may get all the attention from the album, and it’s a fine enough song, but I listen to this one the most.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:
Magic Man — Heart

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

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