Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter T

1. This Guy’s in Love with You — Noel Gallagher, covering Burt Bacharach
One of my biggest pet peeves in music is when an artist swaps genders during a cover, as though the world may screech to a halt if a man were to sing a love song about a man, or vice versa. If the song is so great that it warrants a cover, then isn’t it inappropriate to muck it up by changing the lyrics? I’m sure someone could present me with a reasonable argument, but in general, the practice annoys me. Once again, if I were a person with some musical talent, I’d cover this song and I would sing it exactly as is. Changing it to “This Girl” amounts to sacrilege, and singing it as-is only changes the story. This song is one of my all-time favorites, no matter the letter.

I dig Burt Bacharach in the same way I dig Carl Sagan — in the short span of my lifetime, they’ve always been old guys who know what they’re doing. They’re also a bit amusingly retro. I’ve said that I love a good horn section, and Bacharach certainly does not shy away from them. Oddly enough, I’ve never heard anyone but Noel Gallagher sing this song. Were it not for the brief heyday of Napster, I’m not sure when I’d have heard it at all.

One of many artists asked to appear at a Burt Bacharach tribute show, Noel Gallagher performs on his own. With him being a lifelong fan, I can’t imagine the rush of feeling, shocked that not only did someone think to schedule him, but then he had to sing in front of the man. They say it’s tough to meet your heroes, and most people don’t have to impress them on television. I’ve never seen the footage, and I don’t know if it’s Noel doing the piano playing. I imagine that before, during, and after, he acted much more level-headed than I would if I met Noel himself. Some very scatterbrained and moronic things have come out of my mouth when I’ve met celebrities I only barely cared about (Ryan Gosling, Roger the bassist from Less Than Jake), so I’d need some forewarning for someone like Noel or anyone else whose work I’ve loved. If I wasn’t armed with something interesting to say/ask, I’d blurt out the same nervous crap everyone else does while trying not to lose my mind. It’s probably best that the chances are slim, and I would likely settle for an acknowledging nod.

“This Guy’s in Love with You” starts out quiet, in the same way the beginning of an admission does. “When you smile, I can tell we know each other very well/ How can I show you?” The music builds, works its way up the scale into the big chorus:

My hands are shaking
Don’t let my heart keep breaking cos
I need your love
I want your love
Say you’re in love,
in love with this guy
If not, I’ll just die

Even with such simple lyrics, I find it impossible to keep my heart from swelling whenever I hear it. It reminds me a little of “Baby Talk to Me” from Bye Bye Birdie, which has the lines, “Say you love me/Tell me so/Honey, let me know.” Both songs feel made for the stage, a declaration for everyone to hear. I used to listen to this song a lot driving back and forth between Great Falls and Missoula. Singing along felt compulsory, and it relieved either the stress or boredom of driving. It’s a wonderful tribute to the way our heroes make us feel, and how from their great work, we become strong enough to stand on our own.

2. To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high) — Ryan Adams
Never a truer title, right? This song is made for the most excellent of bar jukeboxes. It’s full of pedal steel, tambourine and hand claps. Ryan Adams drawls the word “high” like Bob Dylan did in “Rainy Day Women.”

You were young and man,
you were sad
When you’re young, you get sad,
When you’re young...
you get sad and you get high...
Oh man!

It’s a satisfying sing-along looking back at all the emotional drama we put each other through — “Young gal, you done me bad/ So I went and did you wrong” — and how when you’re young and stupid, everything is overdone and then is topped off with some sort substance. Sad, in this case, can also double for pathetic.

When I first heard this song on one revelatory drive home from Rockin’ Rudy’s, my young and unstable days were just ahead of me. Well, I may have already been a bit unstable, but I had yet to have the opportunity to really kick into the next level. I did not know that when I’d move to that city, I’d make decisions that I knew were wrong as I made them. I could have done worse, and others did, but at least one funny story came from it.

Hanging out with a group of people who were my friends for just a few short months (and all crazier than me), we had the bright idea to play hide-and-seek at 3 a.m. Everyone assumes that I must have been drunk, but no. In a stunning feat of clumsiness, I managed to fall over a park bench while attempting to avoid being tagged. I might have fared okay if the other side of the bench had not been a foot and a half lower than where I’d stood. I broke my arm, two weeks into college.

I react a little too well to painkillers. Given permission to take two at a time, I headed back to class that Monday high out of my mind. I informed my professors of how little use I was to them for at least the next week — “Right, so I’m a little stoned right now, so I’m just going to sit here quietly, if you don’t mind.” Luckily, the professors were amused. Before class, I became more talkative with these new strangers around me. Tyson says this is how I first started talking to him. One morning, trying to wrestle open a package of peanut butter crackers with one hand, I saw Tyson sitting in the hallway with a liter-sized soda. I pointed at my liter soda and said, “Ah-ha! Breakfast of champions!”

Everything is a learning experience, and some of the best relationships are born out of the right sequence of events and a splash of coincidence. Had I not broken my right arm, I’m sure I’d feel a lot better day to day, as it never healed quite right. However, it makes for a great “How We Met” story. Though I’d said a sentence or so to Tyson before that week, I don’t know if we would have started talking as regularly if I hadn’t been under the comfortable haze of prescribed opiates. Breaking my arm was only the start of a condensed period of crazy, and how fortuitous it was that Tyson saw me through the beginning and in the end, we saw through it together.

3. The Big Guns — Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins
Contrary to what this list may imply, I do actually listen to music that was released within the past five years. Jenny Lewis’ solo album is only two years old, so see? I’m not permanently trapped in 1997. Still, I have the ever increasing feeling that I am becoming harder to impress. I fall in love less frequently with new artists, finding what little disposable income I have going mostly towards new releases of old favorites. Every once in awhile, even in my slow internet connection world, someone new catches my attention.

David Letterman introduced Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins on his show one night, after talking about the album cover and back photo all night — some joke about Jenny Lewis disappearing. I already enjoyed Rilo Kiley, and when they started with album’s intro “Run Devil Run,” I paid attention. However, I didn’t really perk up until they segued into “The Big Guns.” The song won me over in the first lines:

Well you praise him
then you thank him
til you reach the by and by
And I’ve won hundreds at the track
but I’m not betting on the afterlife

The slight folk-country lean to the album leads me to believe that my dad and I would have overlapped on our enjoyment. I don’t think he would have fallen in love with the songs, but he would have at least asked for a copy. I wonder how many albums he had that never made it past one or two plays before he moved on to something else he’s acquired. The stack of ‘new’ music never shrunk. The last time I was in his computer room, one year ago, the stacks remained unmoved. Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust sat on top of one pile. I doubt my mom has moved anything. It’s one thing to shuffle out and organize other belongings, but that room holds so much, it’s easier to wonder why anyone should be in a hurry to mess with it.

Sing mercy, Sing mercy
Sing mercy on me
Let’s pretend that everybody here wants peace.

I’d like to say I’m at peace with everything, but two years later, I still fluctuate between anger and depression when thinking of him. I don’t really feel this is the venue to talk about it, however cathartic and well-received other personal moments I’ve covered have been. Without the perspective of more than a couple of years to work through it, I have a hard time articulating my thoughts, and in a way, I don’t really want to share. Don’t mistake that for bottling up — I am sure readers understand that one does not typically work through grief in a public way. It’s easy to identify with a break-up, but not everyone has experienced the sudden death of a parent. Believe me, it’s a semi-exclusive club of which I’d rather not be a member.

With the weight death brings, finding a song that lifts the pressure does immeasurable good. Is it possible to feel depressed when a great song also has hand claps? (My interwub-friend Michael suggested constructing a list of all the great hand clap songs. It’s worth looking into.) For centuries, people have used music to pull themselves out of sadness, or at least wallow in it awhile before moving on. For now, I prefer to sing it all out instead of more serious discussion. My dad was a fan of David Letterman and all his odd extended jokes, so I suppose it’s only appropriate that the song came to me in that way. He always used to say we should have had our dog, Maggie, on the show for “Stupid Pet Tricks” (She would play keep-away with an invisible ball. Much barking ensued), but now even Maggie’s gone. Either I need to do something that gets me booked on the show or my pets need to develop new “skills.” Guess it’s all on me, then.

4. This is Love — PJ Harvey
Do people still make mixes for each other at the beginning of relationships? Since I haven’t had to romance anyone new in quite some time, I don’t know how the iPod has affected the process of compiling songs onto a disc. I’m just old enough that I made and received my fair share of mixtapes as well, lovingly compiled for maximum message in the time allotted. The infinite space offered online takes some of the thought out of it, doesn’t it? The mix could be half an hour, or a person could profess their love for three. I suppose there’s an argument to be made for a more freeform mix, but to paraphrase Nick Hornby in High Fidelity, there are rules when it comes to mixtapes and the rules are half the fun. They force you to concentrate. Over the course of this list, I may have broken my self-imposed rules a handful of times, but keeping everything in the range of 5 songs has provided the right amount of quality and insight for what I looked to explore. I had to think about what songs truly felt like favorites and how much I had to say about them. Declaring my love of the songs is one thing; figuring out why I love them has proven quite the mental exercise.

Whatever the form mixes take now, “This is Love” would be a perfect, somewhat brave addition. Not many songs do “I want you” in such a great way:

I can’t believe life’s so complex
when I just want to sit here and watch you undress
This is love, this is love
that I’m feelin’

It’s just ballsy enough to work. I think a little straightforwardness should be peppered into song choices. “Wanna chase you ‘round the table/ Wanna touch your head” and “I can’t believe that the axis turns on suffering when you taste so good” leave much less room for the recipient wondering, “Is this getting more serious?” Subtlety may have its place, but sometimes you just gotta lay it all out and say what’s on your mind. The explosive mix of hope and desire may not ever be any higher than it is in the mixtape stage. The song is both delicious and private, with the guitar gnawing along in a very satisfying way. Near the end, Polly Jean breathes:

You’re the only story that I’ve never told
You’re my dirty little secret
Wanna keep you so
Come on out, Come on over
Help me forget

A thousand stories, a thousand thoughts spring from those five lines. Any personal way I can relate to the song, however, does not only involve me. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll keep those moments to myself this time around.

5. Talk Tonight — Oasis
The right conversation at the right time can change the course of everything. I am fascinated by moments of one-on-one introspection, the late night conversations that start out simple and end feeling as though you understand both yourself and the other person better. The right conversation can draw a person out of thinking they wander alone. The path redirects and falls into focus.

I wanna talk tonight
until the morning light
about how you saved my life
and you and me see how we are

Reading parts of Paolo Hewitt’s Oasis biography, Getting High, eleven years after its publication is difficult in some ways because I can see how close they came to not making it. When I was fourteen, reading the stories about the fights, the drugs and the chaos did not phase me — it seemed like a good rock n roll story, both amusing and rebellious. The music still seemed new and never-ending. Now, it reads a bit like a series of car crashes, impressive that they made it out intact. Noel, ready to quit the band, disappeared to Las Vegas with friend Tim Abbot during the band’s first US tour. He meets a woman from Philadelphia, who thinks he looks just like George Harrison and is surprised to learn that he is a musician as well. They begin to talk about music and how fully it affected their lives. In the book, Abbot recalls:

“She said, ‘When your band comes to Philadelphia why don’t you come round, we’d love to come see your show.’ Noel said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ And that was the watershed because he’d really been touched by this complete stranger. I think he suddenly realized the power, how he could share his love for The Beatles and for music and that he had a thing he could do.” [pp. 287-288]

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that “Talk Tonight” kept Oasis from dissolving, however unclear that may have felt at the time. Hewitt later writes of the woman in Las Vegas, “He was thanking her as best he knew how, that is, in a song.”

I may claim that having a song written for you isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but maybe I’ve only ever dated mediocre songwriters. If that woman is not still a fan, then I don’t know what’s wrong with her. (The song even has hand claps, for godssakes. What did Michael and I say about hand claps?)

All your dreams are made of strawb’ry lemonade
and you make sure I eat today
You take me walking
to where you played when you were young

The best part about having a creative outlet is being able to take all those late conversations mixed with the solitary nights and channel them into something bigger. Somehow, life starts to make more sense when you can speak outside yourself because the conversation doesn’t always come. Sometimes, you need to be heard and hope that the ears find you. Even when I feel like something I’ve written isn’t up to par, the process still brings insight. At the very least, I discover weaknesses that must be tackled. Weaknesses may be endearing, but they’re no crutch. If I’m not always looking to get better, then what’s the point?

Not long ago, I read an interview with Noel: “Nobody’s fucking harder on this band than I am.”

One late night, likely around the time of that biography’s publication, Amanda and I laid in the dark and talked out an entire plot to a short story that loosely resembles some of the characters in my book. The ideas tumbled out. I remember feeling like I could sit down the next day and the entire thing would come pouring out of me. I had this big idea, born out of one conversation, and I felt like I could do it. From the talk the words would come, and I knew that at least one person would do what every creative person hopes: get it.

Honorable Mentions:
That’s Alright — Fleetwood Mac

Stevie Nicks does a sort of country song I like here. I sing it all the time, and it’s an underappreciated gem on the underappreciated Mirage album. “Sometimes I think that I must have/ I must have been crazy/crazy to wait on you, baby...”

Tonight (Live in Australia)— Elton John
A full symphony, big sound and the urge to choreograph — It’s obvious why I like this one. Elton John will also always remind me of Amanda’s mother and the very late night the neighbors didn’t appreciate hearing him at full volume.

The Days of the Phoenix — AFI
The desire in Davey’s voice when he sings the line “I want to stay” makes me tingly in all the right ways. He could read, sing or scream an encyclopedia and his voice would probably still turn me on, but this song is one of the band’s best. It’s impossible not to feel good while hearing it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter S

1. Songbird — Fleetwood Mac
Christine McVie and I share a birthday, July 12th, forty years apart. I always preferred her over Stevie Nicks, and discovering our shared fact made it seem all the more meant to be. I like Stevie plenty, but Christine always seemed more straightforward, less wrapped up in the theoretical. Her songs remain in her immediate feelings at the time of writing, and I prefer that over Stevie’s sometimes forced storytelling. Christine talks about herself; Stevie talks about herself while also pretending to be someone else. Or maybe Stevie really is all those characters in one, I don’t know. I do know that I identify more with Christine’s vulnerability, and the first time I heard “Songbird,” I had to stop what I was doing and listen. I had never desired the ability to play piano more in my life, knowing it would be one more way to get inside the song, to feel it as it was meant to be felt. Hearing “Silver Spring” on the radio may have turned my attention to the band, but Christine’s voice made me stay. I’m not sure she gets enough credit for how much she added to the band.

When I first started listening to Fleetwood Mac, I did not have any of the music myself. My dad’s Greatest Hits CD disappeared into my room for a little while, but most of their music that he owned was on vinyl and some of that was dubbed onto cassette. The cassettes, unused by him 90% of the time, disappeared into my room with the understanding that I would not take them out into my car. The newer stereo in my room could be trusted, but inserting an old cassette into the tape player of an old car really rolled the dice on whether or not it would eject intact.

After binging on the self-titled album, Rumours, Tusk and Mystery to Me, I made my own mixes. I had a cassette that was half Christine, half Stevie. (At the time, I underappreciated Lindsey Buckingham, but now he’s the one making the most interesting music.) I played the Christine side more often, and every time “Songbird” came on, I still paused to listen:

To you, I would give the world
To you, I’ll never be cold
Cos I feel that when I’m with you, it’s all right
I know it’s right.

Christine wrote the song for Mick Fleetwood, a man battling all sorts of personal issues at the time, but it came to represent the hope that they could all overcome their troubles. Playing the song as a set-closer, Christine has said that she found it impossible not to cry each time.

And I wish you all the love in the world
But most of all, I wish it from myself.

What I like about Christine’s songwriting is the mix of melancholy and optimism. Every time her heart is broken, I can feel it, and every time she is swept up in new romance, I remember my own experiences. She’s very real, aware of her weaknesses and above all, not afraid to devote herself to another person.

2. Swallowed — Bush
From the moment I heard “Warm sun, feed me up...” I felt like a new person. I made the transition from R&B-listening middle schooler to the Q Magazine reading, rock history learning, obsessive connoisseur of the music I still love today.

I never paid attention to Bush when Sixteen Stone’s videos were plastered all over MTV. I only had a loose idea that Bush was a rock band with a singer who had brown curly hair, and that was about it. One night, I turned on Saturday Night Live. Something within me knew that Bush should register on my radar and without knowing why, I pressed ‘Record’ on my VCR, marking the moment they became an indispensable part of my life. That singer with curly brown hair became who he really was — Gavin Rossdale, the one whose face would cover my walls, the one whose face I would analyze and remember every line and eyelash. I was, as they say, a teenager in love. Despite my girlhood obsession with him in particular, I still maintain that the music won me over first. Surely great music makes its performers all the more attractive, right? I know, I know. Gavin can stop traffic without a band, but I wouldn’t have known who he was without the songs.

After I saw them play on SNL, I still had a feast of new interviews paired with older videos to consume. Between 120 Minutes, KROQ Acoustic Christmas and all the magazine promotion that comes with a new album, my VCR worked overtime and my bedroom began a transformation. I needed as much photos and information about the band as I could get. Whether or not a guy liked Bush became a deal-maker in high school relationships. I actually said to one guy before I agreed to go out with him, “I just need to know one thing. Do you like Bush and Oasis? Because you’ll be hearing them a lot.” He told me that he thought they were okay (classic rock fan, that one), and the answer was good enough for me. I just don’t have time for someone who is going to tease me about my very favorite things.

If I needed any convincing that Tyson and I were meant to be, hearing that Bush’s Deconstructed (an album nobody but the most devoted buy) was the very first CD he owned sealed the deal. Also, he liked Gavin almost as much as I did. Telling me all that was worlds better than “They’re okay.”

“Swallowed,” since I’m in the habit of ranking things, is my third favorite Bush song, after “Glycerine” and “Bonedriven.” It’s a great rock song, with big guitars punctuated at the right times. It’s easy to sing along, even with the abundance of minor notes. “I’m with everyone and yet not” may as well be theme of my life. “Just wanted to be myself,” I’ve often thought during the most lonely of moments, when being myself felt like it came at the expense of connecting to other people. During the times I’ve felt without a best friend, without a person who might ring me on a whim, I would wonder how people fell into each other without effort. Maybe I had above average self-esteem for a teenage girl, but the feeling that I didn’t have a partner in it all could really shake that confidence. I still feel a bit disconnected sometimes, but often that’s flecks of the past rising to the surface.

Though I did not pick up on all the specifics when I was thirteen, I realize “Swallowed” has Gavin singing about being high, wondering what he’s doing with himself: “Hey you said you would love to try some/ Hey you said you would love to die some.” He feels alienated, his poor decisions made in an effort to experience the opposite. “Gotta get away from here” — The song is the desire to move from the past, but without an idea of how. It is midway through the rubble, and it wonders if optimism is too much to ask.

3. Slide Away— Oasis
Some nights, I have dreams where I am able to have conversations that never had a chance to begin or have been too scary to initiate in my waking life. I dream of the people who have impacted me in a big way, whom I have loved in ways both overlapping and independent of one another. I am brave, I am reverential and when I hear all the answers I need to hear, it is heartbreaking when I open my eyes. Some nights, the dreams are too real.

I dream of you
and all the things you say.
I wonder where you are now.

I can expect “Live Forever” to make the set list when I see Oasis this August, but if “Slide Away” or “Step Out” make the cut, I may die of happiness. Or further die of happiness, if that’s possible. If Noel sings “Slide Away,” they may have to scoop me from the floor. Liam’s voice on the studio version is pure, full of young and romantic idealism. “This one’s for all the girls,” he likes to say. Coming from Noel, the lyrics are more than a declaration. They are almost pleading, “Please, please tell me you feel as strongly as I do.” No matter the version, this may be one of the best love songs ever. Ever.

Hold me down
All the world’s asleep
I need you now
You got me on my knees
And I dream of you
and the thought of growing old

In a way, this project has been nothing but a glorified love letter to a handful of people. Maybe a couple of them I’ve never met, maybe a couple I’m never going to see again and then there are the spaces between. There are hundreds of songs that ask “Do you think of me as I think of you?” and this song gets it so right that sometimes I’m only brave enough to sing along. Some days, I get it right and say what I can.

Now that you’re mine
we’ll find a way of chasing the sun
Let me be the one that shines with you
In the morning, I don’t know what to do
We’re two of a kind
We’ll find a way to do what we’ve done

I spend thousands and thousands of words in my (un-edited) book trying to articulate what can happen when all we want in the world comes at the expense of something else, and the attempt to work for a balance between the two. What happens when we put ourselves out there? What happens when the one person who believes in you the most makes everyone else lose faith? I am interested in perseverance, the balance between fate and control, and how love doesn’t always happen in the way that is most convenient.

Some days, I see faces on the streets that, out of the corner of my eye, make me believe. For one moment, my heart stops and I wonder what I will say. One more chance at conversation. One more chance to connect. The faces come closer and my eyes adjust, and I see they are not who I hoped. Some days, I wonder if I’ve constructed glossy memories. I wonder if I’ve got it all wrong.

I don’t know, I don’t care
All I know is that you can take me there
Take me there.

4. Seven Day Mile — The Frames
Everyone expected me to love college. I would go off to my classes, learn all the great and necessary things and then after four years, I would flap my little wings onto bigger things. I lasted a year, and I say it was partially a money issue. While that’s true, there’s much I could have done to remedy that. I also say that there was no point in spending a ton of money and time on a creative writing degree when I could just as easily write and find a critique group on my own. That’s also true. However, the third reason, that I don’t often get into, is that something about college didn’t feel right. I felt somewhat claustrophobic, disconnected and more anxious than I already tend to be. I don’t know what brought it on — an ineffectual therapist managed to narrow it down to somewhere in the vicinity of ‘expectation’ — but I just couldn’t get myself motivated to buckle down and finish. I just couldn’t be arsed, as they say.

It’s a threat that’s real enough
We can burn this bridge or stay here

The Frames started to work their way into my brain, as I grabbed songs where I could through downloads. The purchased albums would come into the collection eventually, but for awhile I had only a handful of Dance the Devil songs on my laptop. They seemed to follow me through what I could refer to as my Mysteries of Pittsburgh period.

The unfortunate byproduct to internal turmoil is that it extends to poor relationship choices. While I could have handled the end of one relationship better (namely, by not starting another while still in it), I tend to think of it as a learning period, with faults on both sides. That excuses nothing, but I’m not sure I’d still value the same things in a relationship had I not gone through it.

One morning, in a fit of sudden forced creativity, I tried to cobble together the ending to a short story I had due that afternoon. Wrapped in my green fleece jacket (that’s a story in itself) and cursing my procrastination, I sat on the couch of the guy I hadn’t been seeing long. He’d gone to work, and the place still smelled of peanut chicken curry and peach sorbet from dinner the night before. I had the Frames playing and playing, the same few song over and over. I had roughly four hours to finish and print out enough copies for everyone. It was the last day of class before we left for Thanksgiving break.

Well this might take awhile to figure out now
So don’t you rush it, hold your head up high
right through the doubt now
cos it’s just a matter of time, you’ve been running so fast

It was raining when I left and walked the few blocks back to my room, the air filled with a mix of wet leaves and cigarettes. My roommate had already left for class. We didn’t intersect often. I got to work printing twenty copies of my twenty-seven page not-so-short story, but on copy sixteen, my ink started to fade. Somehow I managed to wait in line at the copy shop across campus, pay for my remaining for copies, and still have time for lunch.

“There,” I said, slapping my 540 sheets of paper on the table in the food court. I had found a face to which I could complain. “It’s rushed, I finished it this morning, but it’s done and now I can turn it in and drive back home to my very angry boyfriend.”

Tyson sat across from me, his stack of papers also on the table. Only our stories were due that day, in a fateful bit of scheduling from the beginning of the semester. He had a very suspicious grin on his face. “You probably finished yours weeks ago,” I said.

“I wrote mine in an hour and a half this morning,” he answered.

“I hate you,” I said, but I smiled. I had the beginning of liking him rolling around in the back of my brain, but I obviously had other things on my mind and wasn’t really wanting to devote the brain space. He liked me, but knew it wasn’t the time. At that moment, he was a friendly guy in two of my classes who had the maddening quality of being very good at things with little effort. He sat there and listened to me complain over my tuna sandwich and pasta salad. We walked to class together.

Time will be the judge of all here.

5. Silver and Cold — AFI
“The thing I like about Davey,” I said one night to Tyson, referring to the singer from AFI, “is that his love songs don’t sound like love songs.” This list makes it clear that I have no problem with the typical love song, but no one explores the “I would do anything for you” sentiment quite like Davey Havok. He may not always take the most healthy approach, but he keeps it interesting.

Your sins into me
Oh my beautiful one
As a rapturous voice escapes
I will tremble a prayer
and I’ll beg for forgiveness

“Silver and Cold” is my very favorite AFI song, at the very least because of how dynamic the music is. With the low purr into the ear at the beginning, punctuated by the rising chorus, it graduates and swells in all the right places. The thing I’ve discovered about excessive AFI listening is that it leads to more excessive AFI listening. I may not be a moody goth kid, but I understand how easy it is to throw yourself heart and head first into the music. Tyson bought the album, Sing the Sorrow, the day it came out for $5.99 at Target, and we played our money’s worth by the end of the week. “Silver and Cold” grabbed me, appropriately enough, on a wintery afternoon in the car. I had started attempt number two at the novel (now long abandoned), and I was struck by the themes of self-sacrifice and devotion. I find that many of my best thoughts on what I should write occur behind the wheel, and I really need to get a better system of remembering. Though my style is not quite so poetic, these lines have a tendency to make me want to drop everything and get to work, knowing that the only way I’m going to get any better is to keep at it:

Light, like the flutter of wings
feel your hollow bones rushing into me
as you’re longing to sing

It’s not exactly low self-esteem that drives the song, filled with the need to look past a significant other’s faults, exalting them to the point of ignoring what it might do. He catches the moment before the urge to destroy takes over, his voice surging with want. He seems only partially aware that taking on another person’s troubles to such an extent will only weaken them both. The idea of two people being the same sort of distressed instead of one is misguided romance, but it makes for no less satisfying of a listen.

I only ask you turn
as you seep into me
Oh my beautiful one

Not long ago, I read an interview with John Cusack where he compared music to being “the closest thing to prayer.” If anything, I believe that music has the ability to heal, challenge and inspire more than any other faith could, and I think that the people who create it are tapped into a extraordinary force. They use their abilities to untangle their own hearts, moved to share themselves in such a way that says we are not alone. We’re all complicated, flawed and in this together. Created out of every conceivable circumstance, music is how we know we have a reason to hope. Even when we may feel we have nothing, the right song can change everything.

Many, Many Honorable Mentions:

Sandalwood — Lisa Loeb
And I want to kiss the back of your neck
the top of your spine where your hair hits
and gnaw on your fingertips and fall asleep
I’ll talk you to sleep

I knew I had to break the rules for the Letter S, if only for this song. S filled up without challenge, but I love this song no less than the others. I find it amazing that a simple song can affect me to the point of now having a scent preference. “I’m trying to keep cool, but everyone likes you.” Oh, do I know that feeling. I’m still trying to keep cool.

Sweet Transvestite — Rocky Horror Picture Show
My favorite song from one of my favorite movies. An elementary school-aged me saw this movie on TV, and I didn’t know if I was supposed to be watching it. Every time I heard someone nearing the top of the basement stairs, I’d switch the channel, then switch back when I was assured whichever parent had returned to what they were doing. Draw whatever conclusions you may from the fact that my two favorite musicals are Bye, Bye Birdie and Rocky Horror. My friend Amy and I used to make a point to watch the movie around holidays, either Halloween or Christmas, gorging ourselves on Dr Pepper, chips and salsa. One day, I’ll make it to a midnight theater showing, “shiver[ing] with antici... pation.”

Step Out (live)— Oasis
One of the best lines ever: “I’m alive when you walk that way.” This song gives me a nearly uncontrollable case of musical tourettes. Whenever I hear the song introduced on Familiar to Millions, I’m somewhat unreachable for the next four minutes. The music just soars. Love, love, love it. “Can you hear what I can hear? It’s the sound of a brand new day.”

Something — George Harrison
Patti Boyd either had to be either the most fantastic woman ever or the most powerful in mind control. How she managed to get this, one of the greatest love songs, and one of the greatest guitar riffs (“Layla”) written in her honor, I don’t know. “You know I love that woman, and I need her all of the time.”

Suspicious Minds — Elvis and etc.
The first time I heard this song, lifelong Elvis fan Gavin Rossdale was singing it. The enhanced CD single “Little Things” featured a video with him playing an acoustic version of the first minute or so of the song. His take is much quieter, a conversation between two people. Elvis, on the other hand, shouts it from the streets, “You can’t see the tears are real I’m cryin.’” It’s one of my favorite Elvis songs.

She is Love — Oasis
One could argue that this song is the only reason to buy Heathen Chemistry, but that’s a little harsh. HC has plenty of good songs, but “She is Love” is the best. My heart bursts in a fit of uncontrollable joy whenever I hear it. Any woman would be lucky to have song like this written for them:

You read all my thoughts of passion
and the dreams of my delight.
Whatever stirs my mortal frame, will you keep it warm at night?
I don’t know where you come from,
and no I haven’t got a clue.
All I know is I’m in love with someone who loves me too.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Alphabet Soup: The Letter R

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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